Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina believes the club have made such huge strides in the last 12 months that players can now afford themselves the luxury of having ambitions to win the championship again.
A year ago that would have been an unthinkable prospect at Anfield as, at this stage of the season, there was more concern over keeping themselves out of the relegation zone. The takeover by Fenway Sports Group in October 2010 had rescued the club from the difficult reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett but the new American owners had not had any time to make an impact off the field. On it the Reds were struggling under Roy Hodgson as, having already dropped into the bottom three once, they had just 12 points from 10 matches and were 16th in the table.
That form ultimately cost Hodgson his job in January but the return for a second spell as boss of Kenny Dalglish, coupled with considerable transfer funds from FSG, has revitalised the club. They are eight points and 10 places better off and with the whole atmosphere transformed, Reina believes the squad can start to work to fulfil their personal - and the club's - aspirations of bringing the title back to Anfield for the first time since 1990, coincidentally under Dalglish's leadership first time around. "We are a much better team than last season," said the Spain international. "We have strength in the team and the squad and it has become competitive right now. "It is just the first step we have to take in a long-term project. "Things are improving but we want to be even better and at some point be champions of the Premier League again."
First, however, they have to regain their Champions League status and if they are to do that they have to win matches like Saturday's visit of Swansea. In their last home game against another newly-promoted club, Norwich, the Reds had only Craig Bellamy's first-half added-time goal to show for their efforts and, with the crowd growing restless, the visitors equalised after the break. The expectation may be for Liverpool to roll over such teams at Anfield, where they have lost just once since last December, but Dalglish knows things are never that simple.
"Everyone needs a certain amount of patience - the players and the supporters - because they (Swansea) are going to have possession of the ball at some stage of the game," added the Scot, who sent a letter of congratulations to the Welsh club when they were promoted last season. "It is up to us to do more with it when we have it then they do when they have it. "Sometimes there is a bit of disrespect for teams who have been promoted. We've rued the games against some promoted teams over the last few years. "We have to be patient in a lot of aspects of the game."
Swansea defender Angel Rangel hopes he can live up to the praise bestowed on him by Craig Bellamy should the pair come face-to-face at Anfield. The full-back played against Bellamy in last season's south Wales derby at the Liberty Stadium, with the Liverpool forward then on loan at Cardiff. Bellamy struck a stunning winner in that game, which remains the last time Swansea lost on home turf, but was full of praise for Rangel after that match, saying he felt his opponent was a Premier League player in waiting. The duo could again line up against each other tomorrow as Swansea go in search of a first away win of the season, and Rangel is keen to show that Bellamy was correct in his assessment of the Spaniard's abilities.
He told the Swansea website, www.swanseacity.net: "Fair play to him, he mentioned me to the press after the game which is always a big compliment coming from a big player like him. "He also said to me after his goal that I was a Premier League player, although it was easier for him to say it after scoring a cracking goal like that in a derby. But I am very thankful for that. "His goal here proved his quality, and those sort of goals - something out of nothing from 30 yards - is a reminder of how good players in the Premier League are." Swansea's trip to Anfield is their first since an 8-0 humbling in the FA Cup 21 years ago and, while they will be underdogs against Kenny Dalglish's side, the south Wales club believe they can get a positive result. The Reds are unbeaten at home this season but have drawn three of their five games, including sharing the spoils with Sunderland and Norwich. end
Liverpool V Swansea - view commentary, squad, and statictics of the game live.