A Liverpool title challenge was never on the cards, claims Brendan Rodgers

The club's inability to replace the goal threat of Luis Suarez and injury to Daniel Sturridge have caused them to struggle

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Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, has claimed his side “were never going to challenge for the league this year” but has backed them to be back in the hunt next season.

Rodgers’ side finished a close second behind Manchester City last May, and spent £100m in the summer to try to go one better, but their inability to replace the goal threat of Luis Suarez and injury to Daniel Sturridge have caused them to struggle. However, they have started to find their form recently and Rodgers believes it is a sign of what they are capable of.

“The reality for us this season was, could we finish in the top four? With so many changes we weren’t going to challenge for the league,” said Rodgers, whose side face Bolton at Anfield on Saturday in the FA Cup fourth round. “We were looking to win a trophy and then come next summer we will be ready to challenge for the title again.

“This year was about getting into the top four, trying to minimise the impact of so many new signings, giving them time to develop and target a trophy in the cup competitions.

“The squad is looking exciting but needs that time to evolve. If we can get success in a cup competition this year it will provide greater motivation and stimulation for them to stay together and perform.

“Come the summer time, that period of integration should be complete and we can challenge for the title like we did last season.”

Leading that challenge is likely to be midfielder Jordan Henderson, currently vice-captain but favourite to take over the armband when Steven Gerrard moves to Los Angeles Galaxy at the end of the season.

Rodgers would not confirm Henderson was definitely in line for the job but he did praise the 24-year-old’s development in a leadership role.

“When I first came in he was searching for his status at the club but the team who brought him in before knew he was a good persona and a strong character and that has continued. Now you see his leadership qualities on and off the field.”