Liverpool may be well past the point when talking about the top four this season stopped being an option no matter how optimistic one might be. Next season, though, rather than being a hopeful goal as it has been at times during Brendan Rodgers' first year, for many a return to the Champions League will be the minimum requirement.
And if it is, then it's a goal fullback Glen Johnson thinks the club will be able to achieve, believing Liverpool are in a far better place as the 2012-13 season winds to its close than they were as last season slumped towards its unsatisfactory conclusion.
"It is clearly a better season than last season," he insisted. "Brendan is looking to improve the squad and we have got a better squad than we did have [and which] he will look to improve again in the summer.
"Brendan was brought in to rebuild the squad and put Liverpool back into the places that it should be. He wants to put us back in the top four but he wasn't asked to do that in his first season. This season has been a step [towards] that.
"Of course everyone—players, staff, fans—would love us to be back in the top four [this year] but, if we improve on last season, then it is a step in the right direction."
Johnson believes that the change to the club has been dramatic since Rodgers took over for Kenny Dalglish last summer, with the squad and style of play improving significantly even if the results haven't always followed—at least not with the consistency many would have hoped.
"You look at the squad," he added, "the feeling that there is around the place, the football that we are playing and [that] eight times out of 10 we have been battering teams. That wasn't the case last season.
"We won a trophy last season and of course that was fantastic. Everyone wants to win—that's what we are in the game for. But in terms of getting Liverpool back where they belong, we want to be back in the top four."
Liverpool have been out of the Champions League since they exited from the group stage of the competition at the end of 2009, and for the current core group of players—players like Johnson and Luis Suarez, Lucas and Steven Gerrard—next season may represent their last realistic chance of making it back at the club.
If they don't, it's hard to imagine the few Champions League calibre players on the squad being willing to continue to commit to a future that could offer little but fading hope and mid-table toil.
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