"Before the Southampton game, there was that thing in the back of your mind [saying], ‘Fourth, you never know, we’ll see how we go,'" admitted Jamie Carragher as he and his teammates prepare to face Aston Villa on Sunday. "But I think that defeat has put that to bed."
And indeed Liverpool's loss to relegation-battlers Southampton two weekends ago seems to have finally, once and for all, killed off any hopeful talk that a top four finish might just be within the club's reach this season.
Heading into the Southampton match, a handful of positive results had briefly turned talk away from the need to simply win as many points as possible by taking things one game at a time and reintroduced Champions League hopes to the conversation.
It was, as has so often been the case this season, a discussion that in retrospect only seemed to invite disappointment—every time Liverpool's players and manager begin to whisper about top four dreams, it seems to be followed by a result most agree dashes such hopes.
This time around, though, Carragher insists that from here on out the "one game at a time" mantra will win out no matter how results go, though he does believe Liverpool need European football and hopes that when he retires at season's end they will have at least achieved that much.
"Liverpool need European football," he insisted. "[The club is] synonymous with European football and we are a big name in European football. We always need to be in there. We just have to win games. I wouldn’t have any targets. I’m sick of that—saying we are going for fourth or this or that.
"That’s what we were doing before the Southampton game until we came a cropper. And when you lose before an international break, you can’t get it out of your system. The Villa game will have been in the manager’s system for a few weeks. He’ll have been brooding. The Villa game is very important.
"We just have to take each game and see where we end up."
Most will believe it a belated if sensible course of action. Then again, the weeks leading up to the Southampton loss largely saw players and manager saying similar things—right up until Liverpool built up a little positive momentum, at least. This time around, many will be waiting to see if there is proof in action over the coming weeks.
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