Luis Suárez returned from the cold at Liverpool on Friday when he trained with the senior squad for the first time since accusing the club and Brendan Rodgers of breaking promises over his future. The striker was welcomed back at Melwood despite not offering a personal apology to the Liverpool manager.
Rodgers had ordered the Uruguay international to train away from the squad following his interview in the Guardian last week, when he stated his desire to join Arsenal and criticised Liverpool's stance over a £40m clause in his contract. The Liverpool manager insisted the punishment would not be lifted until Suárez apologised for his "total disrespect of the club" but it is understood he was allowed to rejoin training following positive talks with Rodgers, although not a direct apology.
Suárez returned to Melwood on Friday having played an international friendly in Japan in midweek and offered contrition for the disruption the saga may have caused his team-mates and a commitment to training that has been lacking in pre-season. Rodgers had said Suárez owed the apology to his team-mates and the club and the return to training is the first clear indication the striker accepts his immediate future lies at Anfield.
Relations between manager and player have been strained by Suárez's attempts to leave and Liverpool's refusal to enter into negotiations with Arsenal once they submitted a bid over £40m, by one pound. Liverpool believe their correct stance over a disputed clause in the player's contract, plus their consistent refusal to sell, has given Suárez little alternative but to accept his immediate future remains on Merseyside.
Liverpool's principal owner, John W Henry, reinforced the club's position last week when he announced that no offer from Arsenal, or a European club, could prise Suárez away so late in this transfer window. But Rodgers admitted only on Thursday that the stand-off threatened to "sabotage" Liverpool's start to the new Premier League season and declared an end to questions on Suárez as a result.
Rodgers's team begin at home to Stoke City on Saturday and despite finishing seventh last season, and failing to land any major transfer targets so far this summer, the Liverpool manager believes it is realistic to expect a Champions League challenge at Anfield. "No doubt there will be calls for us to improve but that's not new, that's not unexpected," he said. "It's what you expect at a big club. We want to make improvements and believe we will.
"Of course it's a challenge but you have to accept it when you're at a big club such as this. I can stand here and make excuses, I can say City have spent £90-odd million and other teams already in there have got stronger and reinforced as a group, but that won't help my job here. We will just continue to fight and find different ways to do that, and I believe we will be stronger this year."
Liverpool are entering a fourth season without Champions League football and failed to land leading transfer targets such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Diego Costa. The club are close to agreeing a fee for the midfielder Willian, with Anzhi Makhachkala looking to recoup their £30m outlay on the Brazilian. Liverpool have also agreed a deal with Valencia to sign Aly Cissokho on a season-long loan with a view to a permanent deal. The French left-back is due on Merseyside to complete the transfer next week. Liverpool had expected to complete the €5m signing of Guilherme Siqueira this week only for Granada to inflate their asking price for the left-back late in negotiations.
Rodgers added: "The Champions League will always be the measure of Liverpool, for the length of time I'm here and when I move on for the next manager coming in. I think the problem is if you start to think about it being unfair then you just anchor yourself and it's hard to move on. I can make enough excuses but it's not going to solve anything. We have got to fight for our life, with our play. Play with the type of football that can maybe be different and get players in who are hungry. If you are in those top echelons you can maybe attract another type of player but I'm not going to bleat and moan about it being unfair, I just need to get on with the job and do the best I can."
The Liverpool manager admitted that central defence is another area he is looking to improve before the transfer deadline. He said: "Do we need strengthen there? Only if the right player is available. That's the simplicity of it. That player hasn't been available. We are confident in the next couple of weeks we can add to the team. And if we do that we are going to be in a real good position."