Reds season comes down to 12 games

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iol spt feb17 Sterling-Arsenal Reuters/Nigel Roddis Standing in the way of Liverpool and a return to the Champions League are 12 fixtures that can shape the long-term future of this club. Photo by: Reuters/Nigel Roddis

After this they are down to 12 games. No more distractions, no more FA Cup ties. It is falling just the way Jose Mourinho predicted.

Liverpool are out of the world’s oldest cup competition and the road’s clear for Brendan Rodgers.

Standing in the way of Liverpool and a return to the Champions League are 12 fixtures that can shape the long-term future of this club. Rodgers spoke of this defeat at the Emirates ‘narrowing our focus’ as they count down the days before they can set about Swansea in the Barclays Premier League. That has always been the bread and butter for this club and Liverpool’s progress will be judged on their position in the table at the end of the season.

Finishes of 7th, 8th, 6th and 7th since they last qualified for the Champions League are as good as nothing to Liverpool supporters. They demand success.

‘It will be an exciting 12 games until the end of the season,’ was the reaction of Rodgers after this intense and breathless FA Cup tie.

‘My job is to make progress and the key to that is to keep building this club and to stay with the philosophy. We cannot compete in financial terms, but we have young players and we want to play entertaining football.’

Their tails had been up after the previous Saturday’s 5-1 mauling of Arsenal and they could easily have scored the same again. If Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling had taken their chances, nobody could have complained. ‘This is a competition we wanted to do well in, but it was not to be,’ said Rodgers. For some, such as Sturridge, defeat against Arsenal hurt so hard that he fell to the floor and collapsed when Howard Webb blew for full-time.

With Everton waiting for the winners in the quarter-final, Sturridge himself had enough chances to win this game three or four times over. He was crestfallen, finally making his way towards 5,000 Liverpool fans to throw his No15 jersey into a sea of outstretched hands.

His chance will come again in this competition but they cannot take their eyes off the main prize after this setback at Arsenal.Somewhere in between all this, Rodgers has to manage expectations at a club where the fans sang ‘we’ve won it five times’ before Webb got us under way.

The European Cup is an obsession at Anfield, the be-all and end-all for Liverpool managers from Bob Paisley to Joe Fagan to Rafa Benitez. Five times is still five more than Arsenal. On the radar for Rodgers is the chance for Liverpool to make the Champions League for the first time since 2009. ‘Managing expectations isn’t a problem because this club is an institution and we have a great history,’ he claimed.

Steven Gerrard’s last appearance in the competition was against Fiorentina, a dreadful 2-1 defeat at Anfield on December 9, 2009. It’s too long ago for a player of his quality. There was a time, way back in 2005, when he had his hands on the trophy after that incredible night against Milan in Istanbul. By the time Uefa’s bigwigs pluck those balls from the pots at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco in August, Gerrard will be 34.

He craves another chance to lead out his team in the glamorous surroundings of the Champions League. Next weekend he will slip the armband back on and concentrate on hauling this developing Liverpool side across the line against Garry Monk’s Swansea side. This defeat, no matter how much it hurts for a club with Liverpool’s ambitions, could yet prove decisive.- Daily Mail



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