Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is adamant that his team will finish season in the top four despite their indifferent form.
Liverpool face Stoke this afternoon nearer the relegation places than a Champions League spot, but they are just five points behind fourth-placed Manchester United.
That gives Rodgers belief that his team will recover in time to ensure they remain part of the European elite next season.
“I have an inherent belief that we can still make the top four. Absolutely,” he said.
“I know what we are all capable of here. For whatever reason, it hasn’t happened for us as yet this season but our standards will go up now.
“No matter how we have been we are still within touching distance and that is the initial aim – fourth and then moving forward. We are only five points off it so we have every chance of doing it.
“We obviously have to pick up form but I saw enough encouragement the other night.
“Sometimes things are never as bad as people say or write and they are not always as good as people say or write. We will be better for sure and let that be seen on the field in actions.”
Rodgers is likely to rest skipper Steven Gerrard today, but goalkeeper Simon Mignolet will keep his place despite recent criticism.
“At a leading team in Europe everyone looks at every move you make,” said Rodgers.
“Simon is a strong enough character to come through it. His confidence will grow.”
Rodgers’ own position has been under scrutiny, but he retains the support of club’s ownership, Fenway Sports Group.
“I think the owners fully understood the type of manager they wanted in here and the type of profile,” he said.
“They are happy enough with how it has worked for the last couple of years.
“Obviously at this moment in time it has been a difficult period, but that is all part of it. You have to come through these moments and hopefully be better for it.”
Results over the next few weeks will tell whether rodgers is right.
The teams who coveted Liverpool’s Champions League place watched events at Anfield very closely in the summer and, though hindsight is a wonderful thing, mosty expected a drop-off from Liverpool this season.
Not simply because Rodgers’ team would be without Luis Suarez, but because they anticipated Daniel Sturridge’s threat diminishing.
Their logic was that, without the chaos Suarez caused, there would be more chance for teams to focus on Sturridge. He would find the going far tougher.
Then came that gamble on Mario Balotelli – “a bauble on the tree” as one opposition club privately describes him – which has not paid off.
All that attacking force taken out and yet Rodgers still felt able to play the offensive game which made Liverpool the Premier League’s most exciting side last season. They have been found out.
Rodgers yesterday admitted for the first time that his ambitious philosophy had to go, with something more pragmatic put in its place.
“I have faith in my methods and a way of working,” Rodgers said. “We have been given a different deck of cards and as a coach I have to do what I think gets the best out of them.
“I have methods, a belief and a philosophy but you also have to get results and I think I am not dogmatic enough to think I cannot change. I am not a fantasist.
“We have seen the type of football we have played here in the last couple of years and how it has grown, but that depends on the players you have.
“We hope to return to that but in the meantime we have to get results.”
The change may be more complex than he implies. There has never been a defensive culture at his Liverpool and the fact that Kolo Toure is being revered as the club’s most reliable centre-half says everything about the lack of personnel.
However, Rodgers has shown an ability to adapt in the past.
The philosophy he brought to Liverpool was the possession-based game he developed at Swansea.
He promised to “pass teams to death” at his inaugural press conference though, when he realised quite what a force Suarez was and discovered Sturridge’s potential, he adapted the side to fit those players – Suarez in particular.
The new, counter-attacking Liverpool was born. Possession was the means of defence.
Yesterday’s reflections suggest a manager ready to go back to where he started and re-teach the side the original principles.
“It is a different leadership that is now needed,” he added. “For me it is maybe a return to how I was when I first came in .... a little bit more autocratic.”
Liverpool’s manager has no precedent for the position he is in as the bookies’ favourites for the sack – a dismal reflection though that is of football’s short-termism.
The only crisis he faced at Swansea was the blip which threatened to ruin the Premier League promotion push.
You must right go back to his time at Reading, in 2009, for attrition like this. He is also in alien territory in managing a side carrying a huge weight of expectations.
You might say that his Liverpool were the underdogs last season – in the way that his Swansea always were.
“I think inside me I know that I will fight for my life to be here for as long as I can,” he said.
And no doubt he will. But is it Rodgers the strategist, not Rodgers the fighter, who will prevail?
The next chapter in an extraordinary story will be no less interesting. © Daily Telegraph, London.
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