Carra targets top-four spot

Successive defeats in their final two matches – against direct

rivals Tottenham and then Aston Villa on Sunday – put paid to any

hopes of fifth place and a Europa League slot. And while up until

the final kick at Villa Park everyone at Anfield would have

stressed European competition was important Carragher admits it

will be no great loss. “No disrespect to the Europa League but the

way that competition has gone it’s not a massive disappointment,”

he said. “The main thing for us next season is getting back into

the Champions League. “Not being in Europe will give us a better

chance of doing that. We want to get back in the top four and do

well in the cups. “Playing Thursdays and Sundays isn’t ideal so

there’s a flip side to not being involved.” A sixth-placed finish

would not usually be acceptable at Anfield but, because of their

woeful start to the season under Roy Hodgson when they lost nine of

20 Premier League matches, Carragher accepted on this occasion it

represented some success. When Kenny Dalglish took over in early

January the team were 12th in the table, four points above the

relegation zone having already spent time in the bottom three

during a miserable six months of Hodgson’s reign. The former

Liverpool player and manager turned things around remarkably well

to earn himself a three-year contract and give everyone at the club

renewed optimism for next season. “It’s disappointing we lost the

last two games and we would have liked to finish better,” added

Carragher. “But it’s gone well since the manager came in and we

have got plenty to be positive about. “When Kenny came in we would

have bitten someone’s hand off to finish sixth. “Sixth is an

achievement from where we were. We wouldn’t have accepted in at the

start of the season but we would in January. “But of course it’s

not been a great season for Liverpool as we didn’t win anything and

next season we’ll be looking to improve and finish higher.” While

the lack of European football may aid their domestic campaign it

was put to Dalglish that it would affect his ability to bring in

the kind of top-quality players required to reinforce the squad. It

was a sentiment the 60-year-old Scot did not agree with. “There are

a lot more players who don’t play in the Champions League than do

and I think Liverpool is a big enough attraction to players,” he

said. “We will be selective if in what we do and if they don’t want

come it is their loss. “It is always nice for everyone to be

involved in Europe and whether it is going to be helpful not to be

involved in it remains to be seen. “Whether it is good or bad I

wouldn’t know, I have never been in that position before. “It’s a

long time since this club has not been in Europe so it is new

ground for everyone. “We just need to get one with it and accept

that we aren’t. “The challenge is to turn up in July and get

ourselves going again .” Dalglish has had nothing but praise for

his players since taking over five months ago, putting paid to the

myth put forward by his predecessor that the squad needed huge

investment and major surgery to become a force again. There will be

a necessary amount of changes in the summer with a number of

high-earning fringe players – such as Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic and

Christian Poulsen – the most likely casualties in any clear-out.

But in the main Dalglish is happy with the progress which has been

made by a squad which was at rock-bottom when he took over. “They

deserve a holiday. Some are more unfortunate than others in that

they have to play in the Copa America (Brazil’s Lucas Leiva,

Uruguay’s Luis Suarez) in July but we just need to get on with it

and push forward,” he added. “I hope they enjoy their break because

they deserve it. “I’ve been relatively happy but, at the same time,

it is not a football club that has built its history and tradition

on losing matches. “We don’t want that to become a habit but I am

really proud of the players by what they tried to achieve and how

they turned it around.”