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Feb 8, 2013

Rodgers: Coutinho key to top-four hopes

Brendan Rodgers is banking on Philippe Coutinho's arrival to give Liverpool's squad the extra competition for places to drive them towards the Premier League's top four.

Coutinho has been training with his new team-mates this week for the first time since his £8 million move from Inter Milan late last month.

The Brazilian playmaker, 20, is in the frame to make his debut on Monday night when Liverpool face West Brom at Anfield. He joins a club who have not given up hope of bridging a nine-point gap to a top-four spot over the final 13 league games of the season.

"He's a young player I've got very high hopes for," Rodgers said. "He trained with the group this morning, and we'll observe him over the next couple of days and see where he's at for Monday.

"Competition for places is what we want. That was the whole idea of bringing him in. He's a top young player with big experience, and bringing him into the group adds that competition. There's no doubt that the team who have been involved in the last couple of games have been exceptional.

"So it's very important that we've got players in the side who are fighting to get into the team. "The key for us has always to build a competitive squad that would enable us to challenge. The players have done remarkably well up to this point.

"We've had ups and downs through the season and we've lost games we should have won. There's no doubt there's been a real shift in mentality of the group, but we've still got a long way to go."

After facing West Brom, Liverpool host Swansea before travelling to Wigan, then host fourth-placed Tottenham ahead of trips to relegation-threatened Southampton and Aston Villa.

With fellow Champions League hopefuls Chelsea and Everton still to come to Anfield before the end of the season, Rodgers feels that top four finish is not totally out of the question.

He added: "We've got nine points to make up. And we can do it. There's no question about that. We've had a lot of tough games and we've got a lot of who we would consider to be big rivals for those positions to play at home.

"And our home form is getting better - we're scoring goals, we're defensively strong and the crowd have been magnificent, so we sense a real opportunity. It's a lot of points to make up, but we're certainly going to fight and accept the challenge. I believe that if the players continue to perfoem as they have, and retain that focus, we'll have a terrific chance."

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