Thompson: Top four essential for Liverpool this season
It's so far, so good for Liverpool this season – but former Reds favourite Phil Thompson believes only a top-four finish will make the campaign a genuinely successful one.
For the last four seasons that has proved a bridge too far for the under-performing Reds. Indeed, they've posted only one top-six finish since grabbing second in 2008/09, back in those halcyon days when Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres were a lethal Premier League duo.
It hasn't got any easier for them either, with no fewer than five other clubs all vying for league honours this time around. Nonetheless, Brendan Rodgers' transition year has passed and a little under £50m has been splashed on new talent this summer. Still, though, the Anfield outfit are faced with a catch-22 situation; unable to attract the very best, but needing exactly those players to crack the big time once again.
Few people feel Liverpool's pain like Thompson - the boyhood Kop-dweller who made his debut at 18, made over 500 appearances for the club in a glittering 13-year spell, later became the assistant manager and caretaker manager and still reflexively refers to the club as "we". He believes Champions League football is imperative for Liverpool to match the Premier League's elite on a consistent basis.
"We know we need it, but you’ve seen what we can do," the three-time European Cup winner tells FFT.
"We beat Manchester United the other week and I think we can do that to anyone when we have our best team.
"We’ve not got the depth of squad like Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea, so what we’ve got to try and make sure is that we keep our players fit. But we can still make the Champions League."
After losing their 100% start with a draw against Swansea, Liverpool suffered their first defeat of the campaign with a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Southampton at Anfield on Saturday. Nonetheless, Thompson insists the odd defeat isn't cause for panic despite the Reds' lofty aims this season.
"I think it’s been a very good start," he says. "It could have been better because the result wasn’t great on Saturday, but this is where we are with my team at the moment. We’re going to have to accept one or two of these blips.
"On Saturday too many risks were taken at the back, so we’ve got to find a happy medium. But I think Brendan Rodgers has been willing to bend from the start of last season because he changed it around last Christmas time, and I think it worked very well.
"It's only 1 defeat in 13, which is not a bad record, so if we can go that long again... Sometimes a defeat doesn’t do any harm, but what really counts is how we react to it."
Liverpool face Manchester United in the third round of the Capital One Cup at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, and as old foes collide for the second time already this season, Thompson believes the competition should be an important part of the Reds' campaign with no European focus to concern them.
"It’s a high priority because we can only go for the league and FA Cup. There’s no other cup football for us, so this is very important.
"There’s a load of managers who will want to win this. We've got four new managers at the top with [Manuel] Pellegrini, [David] Moyes, [Jose] Mourinho and [Roberto] Martinez all fancying their chances.
"Then there's Brendan Rodgers, Arsene Wenger and Andre Villas-Boas, who all have their own reasons for wanting to win it.
"But we’ve got no Europe so we can play a stronger team than the others may want to, and we don’t play until Sunday this week. We should be confident."
Phil Thompson was speaking ahead of the third round of the Capital One Cup. For more information go to www.capitalonecup.co.uk