at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Dublin – Liverpool will make Wednesday’s trip to Stoke City in a mood slightly more buoyant than the press they've received in recent months would indicate. As the curtain begins to come down slowly on a torrid 2012 for the Merseyside club, they will take solace from four wins in their last five matches pointing towards a brighter 2013.
The dire 3-1 home defeat against Aston Villa – put into context by Chelsea's eight-goal crusade against the same opposition on Sunday – was dismissed as an unfortunate afternoon at the office following their confident display in last Saturday's 4-0 win against Fulham.
They will look at the next fixtures – Queen's Park Rangers and Sunderland – and fancy their chances of making a dent in the top six.
This notable improvement in outlook has been aided by having a full week on the training ground at Melwood with no midweek distractions, Brendan Rodgers believes.
“Last week we had a clear week – that is the first time we've been able to work right the way,” said Liverpool's manager. “You saw the reaction of the players to that against Fulham.”
The word “time” was a big one in the summer when Rodgers left Swansea City to take over at Anfield. The status of the club – at its lowest ebb since 1998 – is one that will only pick up gradually, hence the manager labelling the season as “satisfying” rather than anything more gushing.
“Of course you always want to be better,” he said. “Apart from the Aston Villa game we've been improving steadily throughout the season. If we keep making progress it'll be an exciting second half of the season.”
That progress comes by more dedicated hours at Melwood as well as measured investment in the team during January.
Daniel Sturridge, the 23-year-old striker, is all set to join from Chelsea for £12m as soon as the January transfer window opens, while the club remain keen on Tom Ince, the Blackpool winger and son of their former midfielder, Paul. Blackpool, however, are likely to test Liverpool's willingness to pay high fees, just as they did with Charlie Adam in 2011.
Rodgers could do with both of those targets on Wednesday as Stoke, fresh from a dogged 0-0 draw at Tottenham, have a proud record to protect. Tony Pulis's side have never lost a Premier League home game against Liverpool and have conceded only once. – The Independent