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Premier League

Jamie Carragher eyes top-four spot next season

Liverpool vice-captain Jamie Carragher shrugged off the prospect of no European football for the first time in 12 years by insisting it gave the club a better chance of forcing their way into the Champions League reckoning.

Successive defeats in their final two matches - against direct rivals Tottenham and then Aston Villa yesterday - put paid to any hopes of fifth place and a Europa League slot.

And while up until the final kick at Villa Park everyone at Anfield would have stressed European competition was important Carragher admits it will be no great loss.

"No disrespect to the Europa League but the way that competition has gone it's not a massive disappointment," he said.

"The main thing for us next season is getting back into the Champions League.

"Not being in Europe will give us a better chance of doing that. We want to get back in the top four and do well in the cups.

"Playing Thursdays and Sundays isn't ideal so there's a flip side to not being involved."

A sixth-placed finish would not usually be acceptable at Anfield but, because of their woeful start to the season under Roy Hodgson when they lost nine of 20 Premier League matches, Carragher accepted on this occasion it represented some success.

When Kenny Dalglish took over in early January the team were 12th in the table, four points above the relegation zone having already spent time in the bottom three during a miserable six months of Hodgson's reign.

The former Liverpool player and manager turned things around remarkably well to earn himself a three-year contract and give everyone at the club renewed optimism for next season.

"It's disappointing we lost the last two games and we would have liked to finish better," added Carragher.

"But it's gone well since the manager came in and we have got plenty to be positive about.

"When Kenny came in we would have bitten someone's hand off to finish sixth.

"Sixth is an achievement from where we were. We wouldn't have accepted in at the start of the season but we would in January.

"But of course it's not been a great season for Liverpool as we didn't win anything and next season we'll be looking to improve and finish higher."

While the lack of European football may aid their domestic campaign it was put to Dalglish that it would affect his ability to bring in the kind of top-quality players required to reinforce the squad.

It was a sentiment the 60-year-old Scot did not agree with.

"There are a lot more players who don't play in the Champions League than do and I think Liverpool is a big enough attraction to players," he said.

"We will be selective if in what we do and if they don't want come it is their loss.

"It is always nice for everyone to be involved in Europe and whether it is going to be helpful not to be involved in it remains to be seen.

"Whether it is good or bad I wouldn't know, I have never been in that position before.

"It's a long time since this club has not been in Europe so it is new ground for everyone.

"We just need to get one with it and accept that we aren't.

"The challenge is to turn up in July and get ourselves going again ."

Dalglish has had nothing but praise for his players since taking over five months ago, putting paid to the myth put forward by his predecessor that the squad needed huge investment and major surgery to become a force again.

There will be a necessary amount of changes in the summer with a number of high-earning fringe players - such as Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic and Christian Poulsen - the most likely casualties in any clear-out.

But in the main Dalglish is happy with the progress which has been made by a squad which was at rock-bottom when he took over.

"They deserve a holiday. Some are more unfortunate than others in that they have to play in the Copa America (Brazil's Lucas Leiva, Uruguay's Luis Suarez) in July but we just need to get on with it and push forward," he added.

"I hope they enjoy their break because they deserve it.

"I've been relatively happy but, at the same time, it is not a football club that has built its history and tradition on losing matches.

"We don't want that to become a habit but I am really proud of the players by what they tried to achieve and how they turned it around."