Fulham v Liverpool: Brendan Rodgers believes in young Liverpool squad charged with securing a first top-four finish since 2009 - Premier League - Football - The Independent

Fulham v Liverpool: Brendan Rodgers believes in young Liverpool squad charged with securing a first top-four finish since 2009

Rodgers eases the pressure slightly on any talk of a title charge but fully expects his side to make a return to the Champions League

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is confident his squad can cope with the pressure and expectation of being top-four contenders but he still refuses to countenance talk of a title bid.

Saturday's thumping 5-1 victory over Arsenal put the fourth-placed Reds six points behind new leaders Chelsea, with them and Manchester City still to come to Anfield.

Now the expectation is on Liverpool not only to secure a return to the Champions League but also to chase the three sides above them all the way to the finish line.

"If you are talking about can they cope with pressure then you look at the last few games we've had - Tottenham away (a 5-0 win), Everton at home (4-0), the game on Saturday," Rodgers said.

"That (pressure) can only hurt you if you let it. If you read into things like that too much and listen to too many outside influences or the background noise that goes on then it can hurt you.

"I have never been one who has let anything like that affect what I have done in my life and that is the message I will put across to the players.

"My job is to release the pressure from them so they can play and organise their work.

"I won't talk about horses and all sorts of things (like Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho after beating Manchester City last week), we'll just talk about football and making people better.

"I came here to challenge for titles, so there is no limit on our ambitions.

"I am very much full of optimism for this football club and the development of the team but I also have to be realistic as well and I think it's something that might be too much for us this season.

"But that doesn't stop us fighting or wanting to be the best we can be, and at some point in my time here we will be ready."

The average age of the squad is around 26 and it remains to be seen whether that youthful outlook will be a boon or a burden in the remaining 13 matches of the season.

Rodgers believes he has seen enough character in his younger players to suggest that will not be a problem.

"We have Raheem Sterling at 19, Jon Flanagan at 20, Jordan Henderson at 23 and Philippe Coutinho at 21 - it is not affecting them because they are concentrating on their performance," he said.

"I have a great belief in the players I have here and we want to build on that but I take great pride in making people better on the field and helping them off it.

"I look at Jon Flanagan and his development as a young player since I have been here.

"He is an absolutely outstanding character and he has gone into the big pressure games and been outstanding.

"Many of our other young players - Jordon Ibe is 18 and came off the bench against Arsenal - have been excellent."

PA

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