Brendan Rodgers cooking up a top-four place as Liverpool aim to be no 'flash in the pan'

Liverpool 1 Southampton 0

There are few at Liverpool who would take the sayings of Sir Alex Ferguson to heart. However, Brendan Rodgers appears to believe completely in Ferguson's adage that "every manager must be an optimist".

In the wake of a 1-0 defeat of Southampton thanks to Daniel Agger's 43rd-minute header that was rather more convincing than the scoreline, Rodgers argued this was evidence Liverpool would seriously challenge for a Champions League place.

"The others at the top haven't got away, especially in fourth," said the Liverpool manager. "There are only seven points between us and fourth and the one thing for sure is that we are going to get better. Believe me, we will get better.

"I hope people can see now that we are on the move. It'll be a steep climb for us be we are on the move forward and I would rather do that than be a flash in the pan."

Nobody would accuse Liverpool of being a flash in the pan. Since finishing second under Rafa Benitez in 2009, they have spent four weeks in the top four and more than three years out of it.

There may be seven points between Liverpool and Tottenham but Rodgers will have to overtake seven clubs to get there. However, thus far in the nine matches Liverpool have played against the Premier League's current top 10, they have taken five points

To Rodgers, the new aggression was a natural consequence of Lucas Leiva's return to the Liverpool midfield for the first time since August. "With Lucas, you can see all of a sudden how the right player in the right position frees up the offensive threats," he said. "We have seen glimpses of it before, but for the first time, we were really relentless."

On Sunday, they face West Ham, the only member of the Premier League's top half Liverpool have still to play and they will do so without Luis Suarez, who earned a fifth booking which will at least ensure he starts against Udinese on Thursday – a game Liverpool have to win to guarantee qualification for the knockout phase of the Europa League.

Rodgers was as angry as any have seen him in public when it was suggested the striker had been guilty of cheating when attempting to punch Steven Gerrard's cross into the net. He claimed it was "natural instinct, not cheating as someone has suggested." However, when he added: "I haven't got a replacement, although I do have people capable of getting goals," Rodgers touched upon the single greatest barrier to Liverpool's return to the elite.

Match facts

Liverpool: REINA 6, JOHNSON 8, SKRTEL 7, AGGER 7, ENRIQUE 7, GERRARD 6, ALLEN 6, LUCAS 7, SHELVEY 7, STERLING 6, SUAREZ 7

Southampton: GAZZANIGA 6, SHAW 6, YOSHIDA 6, FONTE 6, CLYNE 6, LALLANA 6, SCHNEIDERLIN 6, CORK 5, PUNCHEON 5, RAMIREZ 5, LAMBERT 7

Goal: Liverpool Agger 43. Substitutes: Liverpool Henderson 5 (Allen, 69), Carragher (Lucas, 88). Southampton S Davis (Cork, 71), Rodriguez (Puncheon, 78).

Bookings: Liverpool Suarez, Carragher. Man of the match Johnson. Match rating 6/10.

Possession: Liverpool 69%. Southampton 31%.

Attempts on target: Liverpool 11. Southampton 4.

Referee M Oliver (Northumberland). Att 44,525.

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