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Steven Gerrard expects Liverpool to strengthen this summer, or risk being 'left behind'

The Reds enjoyed a strong second half to the season which the captain wants to see built upon

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard believes a summer of squad strengthening will allow the club to build on a strong second half of the season.

The injured England skipper, who watched yesterday's 1-0 win over QPR from the stands, pointed to "Champions League form" since January as an indicator fortunes were on the up and worthy of renewed optimism.

After defeat at Manchester United on January 13 Brendan Rodgers' side took 30 points from 16 league matches, winning eight and losing just twice.

During that spell they scored 36 goals to improve their goal difference to +28 - 20 better than last season as they finished one place higher in seventh.

The gap to fourth place was closed to 12 points from 17 a year ago and Gerrard is confident greater strides can be made in 2013-14.

"Since January this team has shown a better level of consistency," said the 32-year-old, who missed the last two matches of the campaign after shoulder surgery.

"We've shown Champions League form and there is a lot of optimism and positives to take into next season.

"Our target at the beginning of the season was fourth (place) and we have not delivered that - as players we need to take responsibility for that.

"We finished seventh in the league so there certainly needs to be a bit done.

"The preparation starts now for next year. I am sure the manager and staff are already preparing.

"All the other teams will strengthen and we can't afford to be left behind.

"I am sure the manager is already thinking about where he needs to strengthen the squad to make up that gap so we compete with the top four."

Liverpool's tally of 61 points was an improvement of nine on last season and would have been even better but for a run of four draws - three of which were goalless - in five matches.

But the fact remains that in matches against the six teams above them the Reds recorded just one victory (at home to Tottenham) in 12 attempts.

"I think it has been a mixed bag: at times we have played some superb football, we've put in some fantastic performances both home and away but we've struggled a little bit with consistency," added Gerrard.

"So us players need to dust ourselves down and try to make amends next year. There are certainly big positives to take.

"It's down to us to continue what we've done in the last couple of months, take that into next season and try to improve."

Gerrard expects to be fully recovered from an operation on his left shoulder he had just over a week ago by the time the players return for pre-season training in early July.

"The surgery went well and the surgeon is really happy," he added.

"I've gained a couple of weeks by going in slightly earlier and I'll be ready to join the lads at the start of July."

Another positive to take into next season is the progress made by the club's academy youngsters.

Winger Jordon Ibe made his full debut yesterday and provided the assist for Philippe Coutinho's third goal in 13 appearances since joining in January.

"I thought I did okay, especially getting an assist for Coutinho's goal and helping the club win three points," the 17-year-old told LFC TV.

"The manager told me that I did well, I just need to keep pressing and stay compact.

"I feel very confident because I've got a little bit of experience so I know what it takes to play here.

"Hopefully I can build on that and take it into the new season."

Goalkeeper Jose Reina, whose continued stay at Anfield will be the subject of plenty of speculation this summer with former club Barcelona reportedly interested, happily spoke about the future.

"I think we're building. We've been improving a little bit, especially in the second part of the season," said the Spain international.

"We have to keep that in mind and build on that second half.

"I think we are not far away from the top four spots and hopefully we'll only be better next season."