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 By Mike Whalley

Rodgers wants Reds to tighten up

LIVERPOOL -- Brendan Rodgers says that Liverpool must improve their defensive record away from home if they are to sustain a Premier League title challenge next season.

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Rodgers' side could still be this year's champions -- although the only likely way that will happen is if they beat Newcastle at Anfield in their final game on Sunday and Manchester City lose at home to West Ham.

Liverpool go into the weekend two points behind City, but with a far inferior goal difference.

The Reds have scored 99 league goals this season to City's 100, but the significant difference can be seen in the number of times they have conceded.

While Manuel Pellegrini's men have let in 37 league goals, Liverpool have shipped 49.

And Rodgers has no doubt that the issue is on of concentration lapses in their away games.

The Reds have conceded 17 times at Anfield in the Premier League, which is the joint fifth best home defensive record in the division.

But on their travels, they have let in 32, and only two teams outside the relegation zone -- Stoke City and Sunderland -- have a worse record than that.

Liverpool have been involved in some thrilling league matches away from home this season, winning 5-3 at Stoke in January, 3-2 at Fulham in February, 6-3 at Cardiff in March and 3-2 at Norwich in April.

They have also turned in some convincing away victories, winning 5-0 at Tottenham in December, and 3-0 at both Southampton and Manchester United in March.

Rodgers, though, feels his side have been too generous at times, pointing to a 3-1 defeat at Hull in December that, ultimately, may have proved every bit as damaging to Liverpool's title bid as last Monday's 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace, where a three-goal lead was squandered in the final 11 minutes.

He said: "We know the areas we need to improve. We've got 99 goals. It's fairly clear and simple for me -- we need to improve defensively away from home.

"In terms of conceding goals at home, we're ranked in the best five. We've conceded 17 goals at home. But away from home, we've conceded 32.

"And it's not even so much about structure. It's about concentration for me.

"We've conceded those 32 goals away from home, yet we went to Old Trafford and didn't concede, we went to Tottenham and didn't concede, we went to Southampton and didn't concede.

"But the other night, when we were 3-0 up, we conceded three goals. We conceded three goals at Cardiff, although we won.

"There are games I've looked at away from home where, even though we've won, we haven't defended well enough.

"So that will be the focus. We'll continue with the philosophy that's got us into this position, but we'll tighten up away from home. That will be key for us next season."

Rodgers admitted that he has watched the 3-3 draw at Palace three times since Monday to try to figure out what went wrong. And he has warned his players that if they cannot step up their concentration levels, they won't play for him.

He said: "If you can't keep your concentration long enough, you'll lose your place in the squad. It's as simple as that.

"We've played in big games this season and shown real solidity defensively. But we went to Cardiff and, yes, we scored six goals, but we conceded three.

"We went to Stoke and scored five, but conceded three. We conceded three at Palace, three at Hull.

"There's an element of quality from the opponent, but I analyse the games intensely and a big part of it is concentration. It's about organisation -- concentrating on your job.

"In the game the other night at Palace, if it had been 0-0, we wouldn't have conceded the first goal that we did. But because it's 3-0, you can think that the game is over.

"We'll really focus on that part of our game going into next season." Rodgers will not sacrifice Liverpool's attacking style, but has vowed to cut the number of goals against, having boosted their threat at the other end.

The Reds scored just 47 league goals under previous boss Kenny Dalglish two seasons ago, and Rodgers pointed to the improvements he has made on that front.

He said: "When I came in here, I knew we had to improve our goals tally, so we went from 47 in a season to 99 so far this season. I will do the same with the defence as well."

Despite the fact that Rodgers expects City to beat West Ham on Sunday and clinch the title, he insists his players have plenty to be proud of.

He said: "The game at Palace the other night was difficult. I've watched the game three times since, and I'm still in shock when I see up ending up drawing the game 3-3.

"To have that much control and good organisation in the game, and then to let that go with 12 minutes to go, it shouldn't happen.

"But I've had great pride in how the players have dealt with the pressure. That's a question that's been asked of them a lot. Can they cope with the pressure? It's clear that they can.

"I think we'll improve dramatically next season. We've got young players who have gone through an experience that will only serve them well for the future.

"And don't forget Steven Gerrard. He's 33 years of age and this is his first sample of this type of run-in. He will be better next year also.

"So for us, it's only the beginning and we're looking forward to finishing this season strongly."


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