Belfast Telegraph

Daniel Sturridge backs Liverpool to compete for Premier League title... next season

By Carl Markham

Striker Daniel Sturridge believes Liverpool can challenge for the title again next season despite not being able to build on last year's runners-up spot.

The Reds' top-four hopes took a nosedive with defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal and despite having an FA Cup semi-final to look forward to next weekend they seem likely to miss out on their main aim of retaining Champions League football.

Injury to Sturridge, coupled with the loss of star man Luis Suarez in the summer, contributed to a poor start to the campaign which is now costing them dearly.

However, the England international has not given up on a top-four slot just yet and even if they do fall short he has confidence they can up the ante when they start afresh in August.

"We have, of course, not played as well as we have done in the last season but things change," he admitted.

"Of course we aim to play well until the end of the season and next season we will hopefully be able to win the Premier League, not just get into the top four.

"We just need to start the season better than we did this season.

"Top-four is still feasible. We have seven games left and anything is possible.

"Every game is important now. If we advance in the cup we will have nine games and every one will be a cup final.

"The FA Cup is huge for us but we have to still understand we have a chance in the Premier League and getting into the top four.

"There are still seven games to go in the Premier League and we are looking forward to playing in each of those."

Newcastle are the visitors tonight, ideal opponents to get their league form back on track as their Anfield record is woeful. They have lost 16 times and drawn just three of their last 19 visits, with their last victory at the ground coming in 1994.

Liverpool will again be without captain Steven Gerrard and defensive linchpin Martin Skrtel, who both serve the final match of their three-game bans.

A one-game suspension to defender Emre Can in last week's FA Cup replay at Blackburn prompted manager Brendan Rodgers to abandon his successful 3-4-3-1 formation and restore a flat-back four, which rewarded him with a clean sheet after conceding six in two games against United and Arsenal.

Rodgers' flexibility on tactics got Liverpool out of their sticky patch earlier this season and Sturridge believes that and the way he coaches the players to embrace new styles and systems is a huge positive for the club.

"The manager is adaptable in terms of the way the team plays and changes a lot of things around," he said.

"It is important to have someone like that in the camp who is a man-manager and talks to the players.

"It is important you can have a manger you can talk to and we just look forward to playing for this club."

For Magpies head coach John Carver, he is hoping Newcastle can do to the Reds what they finally managed to do at Manchester United last season.

Newcastle have not won a league game at Anfield since April 1994. However, they had not managed to collect three points at Old Trafford since February 1972 when Yohan Cabaye fired them to a 1-0 win in December 2013, and Carver is pinning his hopes on a similar breakthrough on Merseyside.

He said: "We've responded in the past and the players owe it to themselves. We won at Old Trafford last season. So, Theatre of Dreams, Anfield - two meccas of football - and it can be done."

Should Newcastle manage to turn around their fortunes at Anfield, they could hardly have chosen a better time to do so with Tyneside still picking through the wreckage of a fifth successive derby defeat at Sunderland last weekend.

That, coupled with a slide which has seen them win just two of the 13 games they have played since Carver replaced Alan Pardew at the helm, has created a mutinous atmosphere with fans waging a campaign to boycott the next home game, Tottenham's visit to St James' Park.

Pardew's former assistant is well aware of the strength of feeling having had first-hand experience of it on the city's streets in recent days, but he is hoping those who make the trip across the Pennines will do what they have always done and get behind the team.

Carver said: "It would be dead easy to say, 'I've had enough, thanks'. I'm not going to do that, and I have still got my enthusiasm.

"When we get to Anfield, the fans will still be hurting from last weekend, but hopefully they'll put all that aside and get behind the team."

Belfast Telegraph


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