Having successfully undergone shoulder surgery after taking off the final few weeks of the season to allow it to be pushed up, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard expects to be back in action in time for the start of July when players return to pre-season training after their summer breaks. He also expects a few new faces will be joining him.
"The preparation starts now for next year," he said. "I am sure the manager and staff are already preparing. All the other teams will strengthen and we can't afford to be left behind. I am sure the manager is already thinking about where he needs to strengthen the squad to make up that gap so we compete with the top four."
After a few years of turmoil and uncertainty, Liverpool head into 2013-14 with something resembling stability behind the scenes for what seems the first time in ages. They also go in knowing expectations will be ratcheted up, with fans expecting a year spent building the foundations of Brendan Rodgers' side will be followed by a return to the top four.
"We've shown Champions League form," added Gerrard, "and there is a lot of optimism and positives to take into next season [but] our target at the beginning of the season was fourth and we have not delivered that—as players we need to take responsibility for that. We finished seventh in the league so there certainly needs to be a bit done."
While there was some talk of the club making it back into the top four by the end of 2012-13, most watching the club from afar accepted such a goal was a long-shot. Now, for many and barring unforeseen and disastrous events, anything less than Champions League qualification will be considered a failure.
As for the club's improved form in the second half of the season, Liverpool have managed 1.89 points per game since the beginning of January—more than good enough to crack the top four most years. However, this year it was only the sixth best points haul in England in the second half. Still, after a shaky start to life under Brendan Rodgers, it's hard to argue it doesn't represent significant progress.
"I think it's been a mixed bag," was Gerrard's take on the season as a whole. "At times we have played some superb football, we've put in some fantastic performances both home and away, but we've struggled a little bit with consistency. So us players need to dust ourselves down and try to make amends next year. There are certainly big positives to take.
"It's down to us to continue what we've done in the last couple of months, take that into next season and try to improve."
Now the pressure shifts fully to Rodgers and the club's backroom staff to do exactly what Gerrard is asking for, starting at the back where rumours suggest a deal to bring Kolo Toure in as third or fourth centre half may already be nearing the medical stage.
Add in suggestions the club is closing in on at lest one promising, experienced youngster like Kyriakos Papadopoulos or Thiago Ilori, and there's every sign Liverpool actually could be a long way towards doing the strengthening Gerrard is hoping for by the time he returns to training in six weeks.
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