Speaking at his pre-match press conference ahead of Arsenal's visit to Anfield on Saturday, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers spoke of the growing expectations for his side at they push for Champions League qualification. For Liverpool it's been five years without it, and expectations have grown to the point where anything less this year will be considered failure.
"When I came in, there wasn’t the confidence to win consistently," said Rodgers, reflecting on the disappointment over recent draws against the likes of West Brom and Aston Villa. "Now there is, and nowhere more so than at Anfield. We respect our opponents, and none more than Arsenal, but we always expect to win and have the confidence to do so."
Arsenal were unquestionably the far better side when the two clubs met in the autumn, passing rings around Liverpool's shell-shocked midfield on route to a comfortable 2-0 victory. This time around, injuries mean Liverpool appear a far weaker side heading into the match. The difference, though, could indeed be Anfield, where Liverpool are 10-1-1 and have a +25 goal differential.
Race for the Top Four: Manchester United Crash Out
With the season heading into its final months, the numbers say the race to finish fourth in the Premier League is down to Liverpool, Everton, and Tottenham, with Manchester United now out of the running.
"Sometimes I feel the bigger the game, the better we’ve played," Rodgers added. "At the Emirates, though, Arsenal were the better team. But every game is critical now, and every team will look to take points off their rivals. If we win, we close the gap on the teams above us, so we need to make sure the performance is right. These types of games are an opportunity to make a statement."
However, Rodgers did admit that the statement Liverpool would be making even with a victory would be less about the title and more about the top four. While winning the league may not look an entirely impossible goal, the points involved and that there are three clubs ahead of Liverpool make a genuine challenge as unlikely as Manchester United's hopes of making the top four.
Even if he's willing to admit the title is likely beyond them, Rodgers says his ambitions haven't changed—the goal is still to win every game and finish as high up the table as possible. Making it back into the top four and qualifying for the Champions League, though, is both objective and, despite a lack of reinforcement in the January window, the expectation.
"It is certainly the objective," he insisted. "It’s the position we’ve been in for most of the season, it means we’re fighting and we’re up there. I was asked [if we were still title challengers] and I gave the answer I felt it was the right answer. It doesn’t mean we’re any less ambitious. Certainly being in top four is a key objective for us."
With Everton facing Tottenham over the weekend, a win on Saturday would certainly go a long way towards giving Liverpool a bit of a cushion on at least one of their closest competitors as the season enters its final third.