LONDON May 9 – Kenny Dalglish insists Liverpool's bid to qualify for European football won't define whether his club's season has been a success or failure.
Dalglish’s side travel to Fulham on Monday knowing a victory will keep them firmly in the race to finish fifth ahead of Tottenham and secure the dubious honour of competing in the Europa League.
After last weekend’s win over Newcastle lifted the Reds into fifth place, the debate began to intensify about whether the Europa League would be a good thing for a club who will be more concerned with winning back their place in the Premier League’s top four next season.
Success in the continent’s second-tier event would come a distant second to qualifying for the Champions League and, when asked to assess the problems that come from playing in Europe on Thursdays, Dalglish’s underwhelming response reflected the lack of enthusiasm for the competition at Anfield.
"I find it very difficult to predict the future," Dalglish said. "We’ve always said we would get our reward at the end of the season – we never set ourselves any target.
"We don’t have that (Europa League) problem yet and so until it arises we don’t have to solve anything – the biggest problem I have is Fulham on Monday night.
"There will be problems to be solved at the end of the season and if we get the Europa League that will be one of the problems.
"Planning for next season started a good while ago, that (Europa League) is just one thing which has to be taken into consideration but you cannot predict what is going to happen so there is no point in worrying about that."
Although highly ambitious, even Dalglish could not have expected the turnaround in fortunes which has taken place under his guidance.
The major concern when he replaced Roy Hodgson in early January appeared to be preventing a slide back into the lower reaches of the table.
But from 12th place they have steadily risen and, the odd erroneous result excepted, appear to have peaked at the right time.
It is a transformation which has ensured Dalglish and coach Steve Clarke will see their temporary positions become permanent, although confirmation will probably not come until the end of the season now.
The players have responded to the return of the club icon for a second spell in charge and Dalglish has been fortunate at least one of his January signings – Luis Suarez, a £22.8 million buy from Ajax – has settled in well and provided much-needed impetus, while club record signing Andy Carroll has struggled with injury.
"With his personality and approach to the games you get a reward and for us it is a really exciting player who has made a contribution to our recent games," Dalglish said of Suarez.
"He enjoys playing football and being here. He has got himself really involved in the Liverpool way and he has got his reward for that.
"It’s a help when he gets a goal but he makes a few as well and we have been delighted with what he has done so far."
Fulham looked set to be caught up in a relegation battle over the first half of the season but a strong finish has boss Mark Hughes feeling that he will not need a major overhaul in the close-season.
"I think we’ve got a good squad, we’ve got a basis from which to keep moving forward and that’s what we want to do," Hughes said.
"That’s certainly what I want to do and I feel confident we can do that.
"We’ll look to add and there’ll be a little bit of natural wastage as well, which is normal but next year, we anticipate we’ll start strongly."