THE last hope of silverware may have gone but Brendan Rodgers insists his Liverpool side still have plenty to prove between now and May.
Having seen their Europa League campaign end in heroic failure against Zenit St Petersburg at Anfield last week, the Reds’ sole focus is now on booking a return to continental action next term.
Tomorrow’s trip to Wigan Athletic is the first of 11 Premier League matches which provide the opportunity to show that Liverpool have taken steps forward during a season dogged by inconsistency.
Rodgers knows only too well the importance of improving on last year’s eighth placed finish under Kenny Dalglish when disappointment in the league was at least tempered by the glory of lifting the Carling Cup and reaching the FA Cup final.
The task facing the Northern Irishman over the coming months is to mastermind a push for the European spots.
Climbing from eighth to make up the 10-point gap to Chelsea in fourth may prove beyond the Reds, but fifth would guarantee Europa League football. Sixth could be good enough depending on who contests the FA Cup final.
“There’s no doubt if you’re measuring it off trophies then it has not been the season that we would want so I’m not going to stand here and try to bluff anyone,” Rodgers said.
“But I’m looking at it from a slightly different angle as well. I look at each competition individually. I look at the League Cup and the team I had to put out at that time that was never going to be strong enough to beat the Swansea side who then won it in the end. I had to do that.
“The FA Cup was down to me. I did not underestimate anyone but I felt we had a team there strong enough to go and win the game. It proved not to be.
“In the Europa League, we were the better team but we did not go through. Why we didn’t go through was probably for the same reasons why we have not kicked on in the league.
“It leaves us now with the league to concentrate on. Certainly the aim is to finish higher than last season.
“I want to push into that top six if we possibly can. I think we can do that, can we reach fifth and go on a run? That is not thinking this club should not be higher, it is just a realistic aim of where we are at for this season.
“That will be the idea in my time here, to keep showing that we can build and grow. It was never going to be a bolt of lightning in terms of the process but I’ve seen enough to give us great hope going forward.
“A lot of things are coming together for us, our mentality and idea of the game. That should help us kick on next season.”
Rodgers admits his first year in the Anfield hot-seat has been a learning process for him as well as his players.
Progress hasn’t been smooth but the 40-year-old says the experiences of the past eight months make him better equipped for the challenges ahead.
“As any manager will tell you, we are not perfect,” he said.
“Everybody makes mistakes in their job. I don’t sit at home at night thinking I’ve never made a mistake.
“The important thing is that you learn and improve going forward. I’ve learned more this season than in any other season.
“But I knew what I was coming into. It is a huge club with big expectations and one I was ready to embrace.
“It is a great privilege to be here, but I also know that being at Liverpool means success and trophies and hopefully we can do that in the time I am here.”
In order to achieve that Rodgers knows he will need to improve his squad once again when the transfer window opens this summer.
The final quarter of this campaign offers a platform for his current crop to demonstrate they deserve to be part of his long-term plans.
“I don’t want to issue threats as these players have given me everything this year,” he said.
“We have been a fraction away from being right up there and it has been more individual mistakes rather than collective, although we all share the blame.
“We will re-evaluate the group come the summer and look to strengthen again.
“I don’t just assess players in the games, it is every day in training. Over this period of time you can build up a good profile.
“After a difficult start, when the players were getting to understand my ways of working and the demands that were put on them and the formation we play, I think they have shown they have grown.
“Hopefully they will continue along that route. I am not going to frighten anyone that they won’t be here. The players have been great with their attitude and the idea is to move forward together.
“We will look to strengthen the group in the summer but naturally, if some players aren’t playing, they’ll look at it. That’s the nature of football.”
Roberto Martinez’s Wigan are only outside the relegation zone on goal difference but Rodgers witnessed their 3-0 win at fellow strugglers Reading last week and was impressed.
On the back of home victories over Swansea and Zenit, coupled with the benefits of a nine-day break, the boss wants the Reds’ standards to be maintained.
“I watched Wigan last week and it will be a tough game for us,” he said. “But after the performance levels against Swansea and Zenit, we just want to keep that going.
“The key for us is to really focus on these next 11 games and make sure we finish what has probably been a mix of a season by showing there have been real benefits from the learning that has taken place and to really kick on and get consistent results.
“Every game for us is a cup final. We need to continue to show that warrior spirit. That is vital for us.
“Supporters pay too much money. People will be travelling all over the country to support the football club.
“It is not as if we will ease off before the holidays. The work and the intensity won’t stop until the final whistle of the QPR game.
“We need to turn good performances into three points rather than just a point or sometimes losing a game. We hope to show that we are developing and improving as a group. I believe we can demonstrate that.”