Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is confident his side can mount a sustained challenge to bring Champions League football back to Anfield next year.
The Merseyside club, who won it so memorably against AC Milan in 2005 and reached the final two years later, have not featured in European football’s elite competition since the 2009-10 campaign.
Instead the club’s fans have endured its ugly sister the Europa League or, like this season, had to make do with a complete absence of continental action altogether.
Its importance to Liverpool was underlined during the summer with star striker Luis Suarez citing the lack of opportunities to play in Uefa’s flagship club tournament as one of the reasons he sought a move to pastures new.
Liverpool managed to hold on to the Uruguayan, who has inevitably been an instrumental figure in their impressive recent form which has even seen them talked of as potential Premier League title contenders.
Naturally Rodgers would not entertain that notion ahead of Liverpool’s trip to face leaders Arsenal, who they trail by two points, at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow.
But it is the Northern Irishman’s belief they are equipped to finish above one of the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal, who occupied the places last season and are among the contenders along with Tottenham this time around.
“Saturday won’t be the be-all-and-end-all in terms of whether we can make the top four or not,” Rodgers said.
“But I think what we have shown so far is that we are going to be in the conversation. It is a good benchmark for us. We have shown that we have quality in the team, that we’ve got a winning mentality, which is important, and that we can consistently bring that to the table.
“We have started the season as we would have wanted — strongly — and we are putting a marker down we’re going to be consistent.”
Liverpool owner John W Henry has already celebrated title success earlier this week after his baseball franchise, the Boston Red Sox, won the World Series against St Louis Cardinals.
Rodgers acknowledges the task he faces to bring the league title back to Anfield for the first time since 1990 might be a somewhat more difficult task, though.
“It’ll be straightforward for us then won’t it?” Rodgers joked. “In baseball it’s totally different and I think everyone’s aware it takes that bit longer in this sport.
“But I think it’s very clear that the group — FSG — has a clear and deliberate plan to get that success. They run organisations extremely well and sensibly, but while being successful. It’s great for them and delighted for them.
“The owners are trying to do it in a way here which is also sensible whilst recognising the expectancy here which is to succeed. For us that is the longer term aim. We want to be challenging and winning trophies here. That’s what Liverpool is about and there is never any shying away from that. That expectancy will always be here. That’s something we relish and look forward to.”
Liverpool will be boosted by the return of influential Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho for the clash in North London.
Coutinho has overcome a shoulder problem which has kept him out since mid-September, but Liverpool will be without left-back Jose Enrique who is struggling with a knee injury.
In Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, Rodgers clearly finds somewhat of a kindred spirit. He is determined Liverpool’s playing style matches his own football philosophies as he attempts to rebuild in a similar way to Wenger did when he arrived at Arsenal with an approach distinct from his predecessor.
“Arsene Wenger is a manager that I hugely respect,” Rodgers said. “He changed the landscape with his ideas and methods of work.
“And obviously then he changed the identity of the club. Arsenal Football Club is very much Arsene Wenger on and off the field. He’s a man who has been brilliant for English football. He’s been trying to win trophies I’m sure he’ll see this season as a chance to do so.”
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