Steven Gerrard desperate to avoid poor Liverpool start

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard believes the club can be Barclays Premier League title contenders next season - providing they avoid the early-season errors which crippled their campaign last year.

The new fixture list has given the Reds an opening home match against Sunderland - meaning summer signing Jordan Henderson could make his debut against his former club.

They then travel to Arsenal before home matches against Bolton and Wolves and trips to Stoke and Tottenham before the end of September.

Last season, with new boss Roy Hodgson in charge, the team claimed just six points from their opening half dozen fixtures before things took a turn for the worse as they dropped into the bottom three.

It was Liverpool's worst start since the 1953-54 campaign, when they were relegated, and that is a situation Gerrard is keen to avoid repeating.

"It's important to hit the ground running if you want to compete for the title. You can't afford any slip-ups early on," said the England midfielder, who expects to be fully fit for pre-season training after a groin operation in March.

"It's a tough first two games but I'm really looking forward to them and I think we can get two positive results.

"Hopefully we will have a few new signings in and we can start the season with three points which would give us the confidence to then go and get a good result at Arsenal."

Henderson's arrival will be followed by a number of other new faces, with long-time target Sylvain Marveaux likely to be the next after the winger's contract expired with French club Rennes.

Negotiations are continuing over Blackpool midfielder Charlie Adam while reinforcements are also required in defence, particularly on the left where Newcastle's Jose Enrique has emerged as the prime candidate.

Udinese's Colombia defender Cristian Zapata claims he has a move to Anfield lined up.

"I can say that I am very close to Liverpool," he told La FM.

"At the end of the Copa America, we will see what happens with my future.

"I have gained experience, but the time has come for me to make the jump to a big team."

Since taking over in October owners Fenway Sports Group have stressed the need to extract more value for money from the transfer market, with the focus particularly on younger players.

It is a policy which served them well in their ownership of baseball franchise Boston Red Sox and one they hope to extend to Anfield.

However, the £20million deal to buy England Under-21 international Henderson indicates the Americans' willingness to spend significant money when they feel it is worth it.

"You're seeing the desire to win and the desire to compete in the transfer market," said Billy Hogan, managing director of Fenway Sports Marketing, the group's commercial arm.

"We would expect to have a couple more additions as the summer progresses.

"Damien Comolli (director of football) and Kenny (Dalglish) have certainly been clear about the desire to add talent where they can."

Hogan told Bloomberg: "When the ownership group acquired the Red Sox 10 years ago, one of the focuses was to develop the youth and in particular our farm system.

"That ultimately is where the Red Sox have been able to compete by bringing in what we call homegrown talent: young and talented baseball players that were grown within our minor league system.

"That's certainly something that holds true across the organisations. We're always looking for young talent."

In terms of what is expected from Liverpool next season, Hogan added: "We don't like to over promise and under deliver. Our goal is to always win."

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