27 Nov 03
We Must Improve
We Want Champions League Football
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard says that his side must quickly improve their Premiership form to avoid playing in the Uefa Cup again next season.
The Reds take on Steaua Bucharest in European football's secondary club competition at Anfield on Thursday, but Gerrard would much rather be in the UEFA Champions League.
Gerard Houllier has already said that he and his players cast a jealous eye on the Champions League on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and desperately want to be back involved next season.
The boyhood Liverpool fan is as frustrated as anyone around the club with their current ninth place in the league, and he says that now is the time to start climbing back up the table towards the coveted fourth spot.
"We didn't qualify for the Champions League and obviously we are very disappointed about that," said Gerrard.
"We are in this tournament. It's a nice tournament to win but I would prefer to be going into a Champions League game.
"It's down to the whole squad to put things right, otherwise it will be too late and we'll have to play in this tournament next season.
"It's my aim to do well in this tournament - and to get into the top four in the Premiership so I'm not playing in this tournament next season.
"To be honest, I'm looking forward to the Premiership game against Birmingham on Sunday as much as this one.
"I'm not happy lying ninth in the Premiership and the sooner we get up towards the top four positions the better.
"Nobody is happy to be ninth coming towards the end of November. It is not just me, it is the whole squad. We expect to be in the top four.
"But it is no good feeling sorry for ourselves. We have to improve as players and as a team and become consistent."
Injuries have played their part in Liverpool's below-par start to the season, but they could get a major boost with the return of Dietmar Hamann from injury.
Gerrard says that the German international is a key player and his holding midfield role allows the England man to power forward on more barnstorming runs that have been missing from Liverpool's armoury of late.
"I'm sure Didi can help this team go on a run," added Gerrard.
"He is an underestimated player. He is not going to score every week or even stand out in a headline-grabbing way, but he does the stuff that goes unnoticed.
"The stuff you need to grind out results away from home and stop conceding goals.
"He is disciplined and we have missed him since he has been injured. He does that defending job in midfield better than anyone.
"It will suit me to be able to get forward more and, hopefully, start scoring a few goals, but the main thing is it will benefit the team."
After penning a new long-term contract at Liverpool, Gerrard is desperate for Michael Owen to follow his example, but has no concerns about the star striker leaving Merseyside.
"I'm desperate for him to commit his future to us. But it's Michael's decision.
"Everyone knows Michael loves this club and I'm sure if this team shows we are going forward and capable of matching teams in the top four and playing in the Champions League, he will stay."