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From Top Four Aspirations to Silver Linings

For much of the season, Brendan Rodgers talked about Liverpool's top four aspirations. Then the goal became the top five. Now, with both out of reach, the manager believes missing out on Europe entirely might be for the best.

Laurence Griffiths

Counting missing out on European football as a blessing in disguise has again become a common approach for fans desperate to construct a silver lining as Liverpool prepare to end their fourth season in a row standing sixth or lower in the table. It's only natural, of course, that fans would seek to rationalise; seek to explain why something that appears negative really isn't.

And now, after spending most of the season talking up the club's chances of making the top four and then setting out the goal of at least making it back into the Europa League once those top four goals had slipped fully from reach, it's an approach that manager Brendan Rodgers has sought to join in embracing.

"It is a double-edged sword for us," he said. "The players and supporters want to be in Europe and as a manager it is a great test and I have really enjoyed the Europa League this year. But you could argue having one season out of Europe would give us an even greater chance of challenging for the top four next season."

It's the same thing that was said by many as the club headed into the 2011-12 season off the back of a strong run to end the previous one and with the hope a few smart signings added to a squad whose core was still made up of players left over from the Benitez era could find success in the league without Thursday night distraction.

"Ultimately we want to be a club that is in Europe," Rodgers continued, "and we want to have a squad which is strong enough to be able to cope with European football and the domestic league and cups. We will see where it takes us. We will finish as high as we possibly can but if Europe doesn't end up for us then it might be a blessing for us next year."

It will make recruitment harder, perhaps, and if despite that Rodgers does manage to bring in the kind of talent he will need to challenge for the top four it will inevitably make it more difficult to give playing time to the two starting-calibre players he hopes to secure for each outfield position.

It will also inevitably mean fewer opportunities to play the kids, and it will mean a manager and squad that if Liverpool fo make it back into the top four the following season will be less prepared to handle its rigours. Though of course it's only natural to seek reasons why something that on the surface appears almost wholly negative really isn't.

"We will keep fighting and working to try to finish as high as we can but… for us to get to that next level we need to add more quality to the group in the summer. I genuinely think next season we will have a real good chance [at the top four] because we will be in a much better starting position.

"I have great respect for the players in how hard they have worked after a difficult start to turn it around and to have given ourselves at least the opportunity—that shows the development in the group. If it is not to be this year then I would have great hope that next season we would really be able to come together and with quality added in the summer that should give us a genuine chance of achieving that."

Rodgers and his players have spent much of the season sharing their hopes of reaching the top four at every opportunity. When the top four was no longer possible, the Europa League became their new target. Now that that too has slipped from grasp following a dull draw against West Ham, it turns out it might really be a good thing to not be in Europe at all.

It's easy to understand why many fans would go from starting the season dreaming of the top four to ending it finding silver linings in no European football whatsoever. And it's easy to understand why Rodgers and many of the players would follow a similar path. That doesn't make it any more reasonable then when fans, players, and a different manager grasped at the same line of reasoning two summers ago.

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