Liverpool have improved since Brendan Rodgers replaced Kenny Dalglish claims Glen Johnson

Push to return to top four must wait until next season

With Liverpool heading for their worst sequence of league finishes for 20 years, Glen Johnson insists Brendan Rodgers is right to claim there has been progress at Anfield.

Not since the chaos of Graeme Souness's reign has the club spent three seasons outside the top four and they have never really recovered from the years between 1991-1994 when Manchester United replaced them as the dominant force in England.

Following Sunday's goalless draw with West Ham not even Rodgers, who has proved an arch-optimist since succeeding Kenny Dalglish last June, would assert they were capable of closing the nine-point gap that separates Liverpool from Tottenham in the final Champions League position.

Rodgers' claim to have improved on Dalglish's record rests on the likelihood Liverpool will finish higher than the eighth place they managed last season and that they are playing a slicker brand of football.

Nevertheless, those who questioned owner John Henry jettisoning one of Anfield's most iconic figures – and there are many on the Kop – would point out that Liverpool under Dalglish qualified for the Europa League by winning the League Cup and reached an FA Cup final. Rodgers has not come remotely close to a trophy.

Johnson, who has played for Liverpool's last four managers, disagrees, although some would question the right-back's assertion that they had "battered eight out of the 10 clubs we have played". Sam Allardyce, managing a West Ham side that had not won at Anfield for half a century, argued they might have snatched victory there on Sunday – certainly they were denied an obvious penalty when Jose Enrique clattered James Tomkins.

"It is clearly a better season than the last," said Johnson. "Sometimes, like against West Ham, we haven't come away with the points we deserved. You look at the squad, the feeling around the place, the football we are playing and it has to be better. Eight times out of 10 we are battering teams. That wasn't the case last season.

"Yes, we won a trophy and that was fantastic. Everyone wants to win silverware. That is what we are in the game for but, in terms of getting Liverpool back to where they belong, we need to be in the top four."

Next season will be the fourth consecutive one in which Liverpool will not appear in the Champions League, which has cost the club around £21m a year, although they have significantly upped their commercial income and embarked on heavily-sponsored summer tours to compensate. By comparison, the Europa League is loose change. Reaching the semi-finals in 2010 brought in a mere £2.5m.

Johnson believes that Rodgers is the best equipped of Rafa Benitez's three successors to take Liverpool back into the European elite. "Brendan is looking to improve the squad and we have a better one than we did last season," he said. "He will look to improve again in the summer and, if we can nick the goals we need from these games, we will be right in among it next season.

"Brendan was brought in to rebuild the squad and put Liverpool back into the places it should be. He wants us to be back in the top four but he wasn't asked to do that in his first season. Yes, there has been improvement – eight times out of 10 we have dominated."

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