Manchester United v Liverpool: Missing the Champions League can become a bad habit, says Brendan Rodgers

 

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The Independent Football

Brendan Rodgers has warned Manchester United ahead of Liverpool’s game at Old Trafford that missing out on the Champions League can easily become something that lasts for years.

The manager, who has steered his team into a title challenge a year earlier than he had expected, seems certain now to reclaim a place among the elite for Liverpool, who have been champions of Europe five times but without even a ticket to the show since 2009.

Victory tomorrow at Old Trafford, where the unseated champions have already been beaten four times, would irreparably damage United’s hopes of snatching fourth place as well as making David Moyes’ summer recruitment of top-drawer players to restore their status that much more difficult.

“We still have a lot of work to get into the Champions League,” said Rodgers. “But when you’re not in it … this club is a worldwide club, monumental, but we found it  difficult because the best players want to play in the best competitions.

“This was Liverpool and we weren’t in the Champions League, and in order to get in some of the type of players we want, that’s where we need to be. Any club will suffer the same when they’re not in there. There is no doubt it will hurt you, but they [United] will know that.

“You think every year is the next year. We were talking about the great Liverpool teams here, and Jan Molby said when they missed out, one year became two … then all of a sudden it was 20 years since they won the title.

“It can get away from you very quickly. It’s our focus and drive to arrive in there; we have a long way to go, but I believe if we can get to that level then it gives us a massive advantage as a club.”

Liverpool finished a modest seventh last season, and their improvement to emerge as genuine contenders – at the same time as United’s troubled transition has seen them slump to seventh – comes ahead of even the upbeat Rodgers’ calculations.

“I was never worried about Manchester United, I was only worried about Liverpool and us getting better,” he said. “You know when you’re employed by Liverpool it is not to sit in seventh. I’m not surprised by it; it’s a bit earlier than I thought, maybe a year.

“If you look at the last 10 games of last season, when Fergie [Sir Alex Ferguson] was there, and the 28 games this season, that’s a season-worth of games, and we would be 12 points ahead. We would have scored 91 goals and they would have scored 64 or something like that.

“This is a team of champions, Manchester United, and renowned for real attacking intent. For us to make that turnaround in that period shows the progress and work that has gone on, and we have to continue that.”

Simply finishing above the rivals who knocked them off their perch would, until recently, have been more than acceptable to the Kop. Now Rodgers added: “The first job is to consolidate fourth then work upwards. We are 11 points clear [of United] now; if it goes to 14, they can’t do it. Even 11 is going to be very tough because we are entering into a period where we are stronger. Our last 10 games last season, we were brilliant, and we’ve been doing the same pattern this year.

“I think [the expectation] is brilliant, great. It is something we embrace. The players have a real feel – not an arrogance – that they can go there and play with a confidence. Whether it is Old Trafford or St Mary’s, we believe we can win.”

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