BRENDAN RODGERS saw evidence in a spirited second half recovery at Old Trafford yesterday to tell him that his Liverpool team can ultimately challenge Manchester United.
A 2-1 defeat saw the league leaders open up a massive 24 point gap on their fierce historic rivals.
But United were hanging on at the end following a Daniel Sturridge inspired revival and the Reds boss declared: “Today gives us great hope.
“We know, in terms of points, that we’re 24 points behind Manchester United, but we’re not 24 points behind in quality.
“The points difference is due to the squad. And that’s the difference for us, the depth in the squad. And once we close the gap in the squad over the coming windows I’ve got great faith that we’ll be able to challenge.
“I’ve seen enough hope in these opening months that we will do that.
“Today was another example of that.”
After an anaemic first half display when too many of Liverpool’s younger players froze, the Reds rallied in the second half, pulled a goal back through substitute and Sturridge and went close to an equaliser on a number of occasions.
Rodgers was thrilled by the impact made by his new signing.
After a goal on his debut at Mansfield last weekend, Sturridge struck again on his Premier League bow and Rodgers said: “I just think this is a boy who can be a real top striker in this country and he’s going to score many goals for Liverpool.
“He had half an appearance today and 55 minutes last week and the boy’s a goalscorer. What he needed was an opportunity. He had one goal and was unlucky on a couple of other times when he was trying to organise his feet in the box and couldn’t quite get his shot off.
“He’s going to be a terrific signing for us.
“It’s the first time this season we’ve had our goalscorers on the field at the same time – we had Suarez and Sturridge and Borini came on and was bright and moved inside well.
“Today gives us great hope.”
Rodgers believes that Sturridge could be ready for a full 90 minutes when Norwich visit Anfield next weekend.
“I’ve obviously been assessing him in training and he’s coming back from injury,” he added. “Sometimes you can rush them back too quickly and I didn’t want to do that with Daniel.
“He hadn’t played for a while and trained for a while so it’s just a case of building him.
“Hopefully another good week’s training and he’ll be fighting fit.”
On the 2-1 scoreline the Reds boss said: “I thought by the end we deserved something to be honest. I’m very proud of the fight from the team in the second half.
“We went 2-0 down and when you come here that’s always difficult. Other teams might have crumbled.
“We were disappointed with the first half when we were too tentative.
“There wasn’t much in the first half but any chances they had were through us giving the ball away.
“But from the second goal on we were much better and by the end of the 90 minutes I thought we deserved something.”
And on Nemanja Vidic’s controversial winner, headed in with the defender in an offside position, he added: “I’m more disappointed with how we defended it to be honest. We’ve got to do better at the back post.
“The ball was played in and our line was okay, but we’ve got to defend it better than that.
“Everyone knows this rivalry is massive and there’s two things you need. You need to have the courage to play and you need to have the belief and I felt that we were a wee bit too tentative in the first half.
“We wanted to pass the ball which is great, but it’s got to be aggressive and we presented them with the ball and opportunities in the first half by being tentative.
“You can understand that with young players playing here. Sometimes that happens – and Andre (Wisdom) was terrific in the second half.
“Okay we made changes tactically at half-time but we also reinforced the mentality.
“They’re real good players and we told them it was important they didn’t let it pass them by.
“We told them to go and make something happen and we thought they did that.”