Brendan Rodgers has attracted much scrutiny this week for his comments regarding Liverpool’s potential to lift the Premier League title this season. Liverpool currently sit in fourth place heading into Saturday’s clash with first-placed Arsenal.
A win at Anfield would reduce the gap between the two clubs to just five points, but Rodgers claimed that it was “too early” for his team to realistically contend for the title. Later seeking to clarify his remarks, Rodgers explained that he was not lacking in ambition.
"Well it's certainly the objective," he said about landing the championship, according to Sky Sports. "I think that the position we've been in for most of the season means that we're fighting and we're up there.
"I was asked a question yesterday in terms of the title and I gave an answer that I felt was an honest answer. It doesn't mean that we're any less ambitious. We want to finish as high as we possibly can, but certainly being in that top four is a key objective for us."
There will surely be few Liverpool fans who would not have accepted fourth place last August. After finishing seventh in Rodger’s first campaign last season and with competition arguably tougher than it has ever been to claim a Champions League berth it would represent a huge achievement for the former Swansea boss.
It is fine for fans and for Rodgers to hope that they can still have a part to play further up the table, but ultimately they simply cannot match the depth of quality of Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea. At this stage of the rebuilding of the squad from the mess it was left in following the change in ownership and subsequent reckless spending under Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli, it is no disgrace to be in such a position.
With a player of genuine world-class ability already in place in Luis Suarez, Rodgers has added other elements of a potential title-winning team in Daniel Sturridge and Mamadou Sakho. He also took the bold move of jettisoning long-standing but for too long under-performing No.1 Pepe Reina and signing the more consistent Simon Mignolet. His coaching ability and man-management have also shone through in rebuilding the career of Jordan Henderson after the midfielder had looked set to forever be defined by the size of the transfer fee that took brought him from Sunderland.
Some of his other signings have admittedly not yet worked out. Certainly, there are strong doubts about whether the likes of Kolo Toure, Iago Aspas, Fabio Borini and Oussama Assaidi will ever play a major part in a squad that is competing for the championship. To a large extent, however, those signings are a product of the position Liverpool were in when he assumed the reins.
Rodgers is simply not able to shop at the top table. When he has tried -- namely in the cases of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Willian and Mohamed Salah -- he has lost out to clubs plying their trade in the Champions League. The reality, sad though it maybe to some, is that players today are largely uninterested in the success a potential club had in the 1970s and 1980s. It is the ability to compete in the world’s premier competition as well as money that counts most.
Rodgers, instead, has to look for players of a less thorough pedigree in the hope that they can develop in sync with the club. It is what makes it exceedingly difficult to go from seventh place to title contenders. As Manchester City found out, despite throwing a sheikh’s money around like confetti, it takes time and there are inevitable stages to go through in order to get to the top.
If Liverpool are able to clinch a Champions League spot this season, it will enable them to attract a higher standard of player this summer, as well as, just as importantly, keeping their current star man Suarez.
It appears to be an opinion which Rodgers shares.
"I think we'll need to strengthen the overall squad and looking to obviously introduce more quality, but it's only natural," he said. "The players have been brilliant this season in terms of what they've produced, with what we have, and we just look to continue to develop the squad and I think when we do that then we can be there."
It was against Arsenal earlier in the season when Liverpool’s lack of title-winning quality was most laid bare. A 2-0 defeat at the Emirates was comprehensive, with certain players left exposed on the day. Defeats also followed against the other title contenders Manchester City and Chelsea.
Of course, all three of those losses have been away from home and Liverpool’s form at Anfield has been far superior. It is certainly possible that Liverpool raise their game and dent Arsenal’s title chances on Saturday, yet it won’t change the fact that this campaign comes too early to get back to where all Liverpool fans believe their club belong. Accepting that is no cause for accusations of a lack of ambition, for this could well be a hugely important season in the process of the 18-times champions of England returning to the top.