Liverpool looking to go top of the league for Christmas as Rodgers aims to stay focused

Manager hoping to be in contention for the title with 10 games remaining

Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring against Manchester United at Anfield in September with manager Brendan Rodgers. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring against Manchester United at Anfield in September with manager Brendan Rodgers. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Sat, Dec 21, 2013, 01:00

It is highly appropriate that Vincent Tan visits Anfield 24 hours after Liverpool secured Luis Suarez on a new long-term contract and for a game that may take Brendan Rodgers’ team top of the Premier League at Christmas.

Liverpool were last in contention at this stage in 2008-09 but back then they were the circus act. Now it is the poor unfortunates of Cardiff City who must contend with a divisive owner while harmony helps Anfield move on.

Liverpool were under the near-ruinous regime of Tom Hicks and George Gillett five years ago yet still amid their best domestic campaign under Rafael Benitez, one that ended in a second-place finish four points adrift of Manchester United. There has been revisionism over how close Liverpool came to the title that season – a defeat at Middlesbrough in February cut them adrift before a rousing finale of 10 wins in 11 games closed the gap – but few would dispute the severity of the distractions.

And they were everywhere. The deployment of Liverpool’s then number seven and major summer signing Robbie Keane now seems trivial compared with the debt the owners placed on the club, the growing, organised protests against their regime and Benitez’s dispute over a new contract – to name but a few.

The speed and success of Suarez’s contract negotiations this week serves as a stark contrast and demonstration of the restoration work undertaken by Fenway Sports Group, Hicks’s and Gillett’s successor. It should also help concentrate Liverpool’s focus on qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since the off-field crisis of 2008-09 and on achieving the win over Cardiff that would deliver first place before Arsenal’s game with Chelsea on Monday.

“It would certainly be a statement to be top at Christmas,” says Rodgers, clearly not content with the statement Liverpool made with the Suarez deal yesterday. “I’d rather be there. It shows you are near enough at the halfway point of the season and you’re the best team. So it is a good statement but something that can also give you the confidence and belief for the second half of the season. But we are not getting carried away.

‘Very satisfying’
“It is terrific reward for the players, very satisfying for the supporters, great for them. They talk here of the holy trinity between players, managers and the supporters being all together and we have shown that real togetherness across the club. If we can stay like that and keep working, we are going to be in with a great chance of achieving the objective.”

There was little togetherness in 2008-09 and, unlike five years ago, there has been clear improvement in Liverpool’s performance level as the season has progressed, with the exception of the recent defeat at Hull City.

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