Daniel Agger has admitted the FA Cup final defeat will "haunt" Liverpool but warned that Kenny Dalglish's team cannot allow a miserable Premier League campaign to sink any lower as they prepare for an unpalatable reunion with Chelsea.
Liverpool fell behind Fulham to ninth in the table on Sunday following the Cottagers' victory over Sunderland and entertain their FA Cup conquerors Chelsea in a re-arranged league fixture at Anfieldon Tuesday night. The final home game of the season promises to be a dispiriting night for Dalglish and his team, who have delivered only five league wins at Anfield and will equal the club's worst home campaign of 1948‑49 should they fail to beat Roberto Di Matteo's side. But Agger insists a recovery, and the process of convincing Liverpool's owners that the team can deliver under Dalglish, must commence immediately.
The Danish defender said: "Can we challenge the top teams next season? Of course we can. We have moved forward a lot this season but right now the only feelings are of disappointment. When you get into an FA Cup final, you really want to win it. Nobody ever remembers the runners-up. We know these opportunities do not come along that often and that is why you have to take them when they do. The Cup final will haunt us but we have got two games left in the season and we have got to try and win them. That is how we will start to move forward. It is difficult right now to think about anything else."
Liverpool also trail Everton by four points with two games remaining – they end their season at Swansea City on Sunday – and the captain, Steven Gerrard, who asked for judgment to be reserved on the campaign until after the FA Cup final, concedes the contrast between league and cup has been unacceptable.
"We need to find a better level of consistency in the league. The performances haven't been good enough, simple as that," he said. "There are no excuses. We as players need to take responsibility for that showing because the players we have in that dressing room are certainly not eighth [ninth] best in the league."
The penultimate game of the season offers Andy Carroll an opportunity to build on an impressive substitute appearance at Wembley and to force his way into Roy Hodgson's thinking for Euro 2012. "Andy will dictate it with his own performances. Every time he plays, he is putting a reference on himself," said Dalglish.