As he prepares his side to take on Aston Villa on Saturday, Brendan Rodgers believes Liverpool can still have a major say in the title race. Back-to-back defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea over the festive period have left the Reds behind both in the Premier League and six points off top side Arsenal. However, with Liverpool having since recovered with wins against Hull City and Stoke City, Rodgers maintains that his side has an opportunity to go the distance.
“We've got all those teams to play at home, and we're only six points off the leaders, so you have to feel that we are, and we have the confidence and belief in ourselves," he said, according to Liverpool’s official website.
"Of course, everyone will talk about the three clubs that's there in front of us because they've got squads that have been around there for years and have big squads to choose from.
"We have to maintain our focus and concentration. You really have to push during the second half of the season and keep your standards high, not just on the games, but every day in training.”
Last time out, Liverpool finally got the better of Stoke in a 5-3 thriller at the Britannia Stadium. Daniel Sturridge made his return from a six-week layoff in the second half and made an immediate impact, scoring one and setting up another for Luis Suarez. And Rodgers believes that the England forward will be ready to play from the start at Anfield on Saturday.
"His qualities and fitness, aligned with what I've seen in training, I think show that if we needed him to start, he would be able to,” he told the club’s website.
While Rodgers has talked up the club’s title chances, the priority undoubtedly remains ensuring a return to the Champions League. The Reds are currently just a point ahead of Everton, with a victory against Villa needed if they are to ensure holding onto fourth place ahead of a much-anticipated meeting between the two Merseyside rivals in 10 days’ time.
Aston Villa come into the match on the back of a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal that leaves them with just one win in their last eight matches in all competitions. But coach Paul Lambert is using last season’s 3-1 win at Anfield as inspiration for his side on Saturday.
“You can't feel inferior,” he said, according to Aston Villa’s official website. “You can't have a complex. We will go there to win. We won there last year. We will try and do it again.
"You have every inch of respect for them. But we concentrate on our team. We will look to ask them questions. We beat them there last season. No-one gave us a chance but that's football. That day we went 3-0 up and Liverpool scored towards the end. It just shows that on any given day you can win.”
With Nathan Baker suffering a mild concussion against Arsenal, Lambert is likely to start with the back four that finished that encounter. Lambert will be hoping that his side can begin against Liverpool with the same intensity that his team ended the match with Arsenal, when Christian Benteke scored his first goal since September to put their opponents under real pressure late on. Lambert has also moved to bolster his side’s attacking options by bringing in Grant Holt from his former club Norwich City on loan.
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off at 12.30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBC, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.