Laudrup salutes Rodgers but plans to dent his top-four hopes
MICHAEL Laudrup doffs his cap to Brendan Rodgers for the work he did at Swansea City and the job he is doing at Liverpool.
But Swansea's current manager reckons his predecessor has some task on his hands as he attempts to guide Liverpool back into the Champions League.
The Reds have not featured in club football's premier competition since 2010, and Rodgers's first task as Liverpool boss is to try to get them back there.
A fine start to the new campaign has raised hopes on Merseyside.
Liverpool are top of the early-season table having won their first three league games, a feat that saw Rodgers named as the Premier League's manager of the month yesterday.
But as he plots a way to end Liverpool's 100 per cent record at the Liberty Stadium on Monday night, Laudrup has insisted it is too soon to talk about the Anfield club as top-four probables.
"I think Liverpool are a better side than last year," says the Dane.
"They have more experience now and they have brought some good players into the club.
"As well as that, players like (Daniel) Sturridge and (Phillippe) Coutinho are getting better now they have played a certain number of games for Liverpool.
"But I could also talk about Tottenham's new signings.
"I think Liverpool are coming much closer to Tottenham and Arsenal in the race for fourth place, but it's too early to say they will finish in the top four."
Laudrup reckons the top three clubs are already certain even at this early stage in the campaign, and that the sole question there is what order Chelsea and the two Manchesters will finish in.
"I think they are the only three teams who can win the league," he adds.
"Liverpool have made a great start to the season. They have nine points from three games and they have beaten Manchester United.
"I like the way they play, but we have to wait and see what happens through the season.
"They are in there with Arsenal and Tottenham, but only one of them can finish fourth."
Rodgers's popularity rating is on the rise on Merseyside after a debut season which was difficult at times.
The Northern Irishman has very quickly overhauled the Liverpool squad, packing off players like Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam and recruiting the likes of Coutinho, Sturridge and Iago Aspas.
"At the top level in football, the word patience is not used very often," Laudrup adds.
"I think last season Liverpool had a new manager coming in who wanted to change some things and bring in some young players like (Raheem) Sterling and Joe Allen.
"They had a very difficult start to last season in terms of their fixtures, but their start has been completely different this year.
"They are not in Europe this year either, so they can concentrate on the Premier League."
Laudrup is urging his players to do likewise this weekend, though that is not easy with a Europa League trip to Valencia ahead next Thursday.
After that, Ashley Williams and company must turn their attention back to the league, and a trip to Crystal Palace a week tomorrow.
Swansea must get used to being busy, for their hectic schedule is not going to ease any time soon.
"We have already played seven competitive games this season and now we have another seven coming up before the next international break," Laudrup points out.
"We have two European games, four league games and one game in the Capital One Cup — we are playing every three days.
"But we earned the right to have all these games by winning the cup last season and it's a great experience for us.
"The most important thing is that we remember the league is the priority."
The pressure on Swansea domestically has eased considerably on the back of their comfortable win at West Brom last time out.
There were some long faces in the camp after back-to-back defeats to open up the season, even if Swansea cannot expect to get anything from Manchester United and Tottenham.
The tough fixtures keep coming, with Arsenal to come next at home after Liverpool.
"We have a very difficult start," Laudrup nods, "and that's why West Brom was so important.
"We need to get some points just to stay in there right now, and then we have a run of fixtures against teams who I would say are in our league."
As was the case going to United and Spurs, Swansea will be thrilled if they get anything on Monday, for Liverpool remain one of the heavy-hitters in the Premier League.
Having said that, of course, Swansea have proved themselves well capable of getting results against the Merseysiders in the last couple of years.
In five meetings, Swansea have won twice and lost only once.
The defeat was embarrassing, for Swansea were demolished at Liverpool back in February as Laudrup and Co glanced towards Wembley and Bradford City the following week.
Now Valencia is around the corner, but no-one wants another day like the last against Liverpool.
Laudrup's side should be relishing the opportunity to have a crack at the leaders — and to build on their Hawthorns success by upsetting a man who enjoyed two fabulous years in these parts.
"There are still some players here who worked under Brendan Rodgers, and he is an important part of the history of this club," Laudrup adds.
"We always have to remember that, but not on Monday night.
"On Monday night he is Liverpool and we are Swansea, and we will do everything we can to beat him and his team."