Brendan Rodgers' hopes of Liverpool finishing in the Premier League top four begin to fade
IT is difficult to tell whether Brendan Rodgers spoke with true conviction or whether he was being swayed by the lofty expectations at Liverpool when he said this week that the club are still aiming for a top-four finish in the Premier League.
With 18 league titles and five European Cups to their name, it is perhaps understandable why the Reds still view themselves as one of the top flight's heavyweights.
But if they needed reminding of how their standing in the game has altered in recent years, it came with a jolt when they lost 2-0 at home to West Brom on Monday.
The defeat left Liverpool in ninth place, 12 points behind Tottenham in fourth and three points worse off than they were at this stage last season.
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They ended that campaign in eighth place, which was deemed a poor enough result to cost Kenny Dalglish his job as the Liverpool manager. In came Rodgers last summer and, although their league standing is indicative of a few teething issues, there has been progress at Anfield.
The former Swansea City manager has brought with him the same footballing philosophy which yielded such sparkling success in South Wales, and his acquisition of young, developing players is evidence of his determination to build gradually.
"We have (12) points difference but we can do it, there is no question about that," said Rodgers.
"It is a lot of points to make up but we will fight and accept the challenge in front of us.
"I believe if we continue to play how we have been and retain that focus and mentality we have a terrific chance.
"It is going to be very tough but it is not something which is impossible."
Qualifying for the Champions League may well be possible, but it seems unlikely at this point.
The top half dozen appear to be pulling clear, with a five-point gap now separating sixth-placed Everton and Swansea in seventh.
Before they can contemplate reclaiming their seat at the top table of the Premier League, Liverpool will have to wrestle their way to the front of the chasing pack. And with the Swans currently blocking their path, there is an added dimension to Sunday's meeting between the two sides at Anfield.
This would usually represent one of the highlights of the season for Swansea — a trip to one of Europe's most historic footballing arenas, and a rematch against their former leader to boot.
But with the Capital One Cup final looming next weekend, this is merely a warm-up for Michael Laudrup's men.
For Liverpool, meanwhile, this match is crucial to their league aspirations; their revised and lowered ambitions.