Former Liverpool star Houghton says team can finish in top four
Some are calling the 0-0 Merseyside Derby draw at Goodison Park yesterday morning (Singapore time) one of the most dour and insipid in recent years.
Everton may well be the happier of the two teams as they continue to recover from a poor first half of the season and inch up the Premier League table, but it's not all doom and gloom for Liverpool in their bid to finish in the top four and earn a Champions League ticket next season.
The Reds kept a clean sheet and remain strong contenders for a spot in Europe's elite competition.
League-leaders Chelsea are stretching away from Manchester City, who are not assured of second spot now after a poor run of form.
That means there are seven clubs vying for three Champions League spots, but I believe Southampton and West Ham will eventually fall away.
I expect the two Manchester giants, Tottenham, Arsenal and my old club Liverpool to be slugging it out for the three coveted places.
The player who can get the Reds there at the end is Daniel Sturridge, who is key as the team chase a second consecutive season in the Champions League.
The forward is obviously not 100 per cent match-fit and Brendan Rodgers has been correct in easing the 25-year-old back into the fray, bringing him on for Philippe Coutinho in the 56th minute at Goodison Park.
Coutinho's creative partnership with Raheem Sterling has served Liverpool well in recent matches, but the Reds have lacked a top-class finisher like Sturridge, or Suarez, or Torres before them.
Without England star Sturridge, the club have lacked the fear factor they had last season, when they were just pipped to the title by Man City.
Liverpool have a tough month ahead, with red-hot Spurs due at Anfield on Wednesday morning and a Southampton date later in the month, after Rodgers' men tackle their FA Cup and Europa League commitments against Crystal Palace and Besiktas, respectively.
Some will say Sturridge should be brought back into the starting line-up as soon as Wednesday, especially with Spurs in rampant form, but that will be doing the Reds more harm than good and I don't think Rodgers will do that.
The club were clearly unhappy over the way the national team handled Sturridge's injury last September and the smart thing to do would be to bring the striker off the bench again against Tottenham, and perhaps a start against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday.
Of course, Sturridge alone cannot carry Liverpool and the rest of the squad simply have to buck up.
The likes of Mario Balotelli and Joe Allen spring to mind and the Italian striker, in particular, must start repaying the faith Rodgers has shown for him.
While the Premiership campaign is important, it is a trophy run will also do wonders for Rodgers' regime.
The Northern Irishman is into his third season in charge of the Reds and silverware will go a long way in soothing the fans and the players, especially after the way they lost the league title last year.
It breeds confidence, it generates belief that the club are heading in the right direction and will also make Liverpool an even more attractive destination as the manager scours for talent to bring in.
The likes of Chelsea and Man City have been knocked out of the FA Cup already and victory in the Europa League will mean automatic qualification into next season's Champions League, so there are big incentives to plot for a winning run in the cups.
Of course, the last thing Steven Gerrard and Co. need is to worry about these possibilities.
Liverpool's players need to hunker down and focus on the next match, and worry about things as they come.
• Ray Houghton was speaking to Lim Say Heng
Rodgers impressed by his 'Rolls Royce' stars
"He has wonderful temperament and technique, and is tactically very good for a kid, having to get forward and then knowing when to tuck in as well. I was very pleased for him in the intensity of that game." - Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers (below), on Reds starlet Jordan Ibe (in red) - PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES
- PHOTO: REUTERS
Brendan Rodgers praised the performance of his young players, as they played a leading role in extending Liverpool's long unbeaten record against Everton in the Merseyside Derby yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Much of the build-up to the 224th meeting between the two clubs was focused on Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, as he prepared to play his final league game against Everton prior to his move to LA Galaxy at the end of the season.
Gerrard's performance in the 0-0 draw at Goodison Park was described as "excellent" by Rodgers, and the 34-year-old went close to winning the game with a second-half volley which was deflected over by Everton's Steven Naismith.
But it was converted-defender Emre Can, who helped Liverpool keep a fourth successive Premier League clean sheet, and 19-year-old winger Jordon Ibe, on only his second league start for Liverpool, who typified his team's performance in the eyes of Rodgers.
Ibe was recalled from a loan spell at Championship side Derby County last month and was promoted to the starting line-up after two substitute performances. He hit the post with a long-range effort as Liverpool stretched their unbeaten run in the derby fixture to 10 games.
"What was pleasing tonight in such an intense atmosphere was the composure of my young players," Rodgers said.
"Emre Can, at 21, was like a Rolls Royce at the back - he defended fantastically and his quality on the ball was very, very good. Young Jordan Ibe and the rest showed great composure.
"I have just been waiting to put Jordan in. We called him back because we felt he could really contribute.
"He had a great spell on loan, which is what you want from your young players, to get that experience, and he had an outstanding manager in Steve McClaren at Derby.
"He had a good time at a good club but it was time for him to come back and feature. He would have played in some of the cup games if he had been available and I had no qualms about putting him in.
"It was a brilliant performance by him and he was unfortunate not to have scored with his run and strike and he had one at the back post where if he arrived a fraction earlier he would probably have scored."
Meanwhile, Everton manager Roberto Martinez sees reason for optimism ahead of a midweek trip to league leaders Chelsea and a Europa League last-32 tie against Swiss club Young Boys
"I have felt for a while that we are starting to perform and showing signs that we can reproduce the quality we have and the quality we showed last season," he said.
"Obviously we want to win games. Winning at Crystal Palace (last week) gave us a lot of confidence and today's performance, from a defensive and tactical point of view, will also give us a lot of confidence." - AFP.