Dec 27 (Reuters) - Liverpool proved they deserved a place among the top four clubs in England despite the 2-1 defeat in the Boxing Day fixture at Manchester City, manager Brendan Rodgers said.
City were forced to come from behind to preserve their perfect home record on Thursday and also had cause to be thankful for a controversial disallowed Liverpool goal in the first half.
That decision added a little anger to Rodgers' disappointment at his team's failure to come away from Manchester with at least a point but his overwhelming emotion was one of pride.
"I was very proud of the players, I thought they were absolutely outstanding," he told the club's website.
"They really took the game to a team that is a top, top side full of top European players.
"I think people will go away and look at us as a team that's hopefully going to be up there challenging," he added.
"Our main objective is to set up camp in the top four. That's what this club has been striving for, for a number of years.
"But we've shown consistently over this year that we're hopefully going to be in with a right good chance of doing that.
"I think performances like tonight... show that we have the quality to do that. We didn't get the points, but we'll recover well now and get onto the next game."
The defeat leaves Liverpool, who could have gone top with a victory, in fourth place in the league behind their next opponents Chelsea, who they meet in London on Sunday.
While it has been their attacking prowess that has attracted the headlines this season, Rodgers said Liverpool needed to improve their game management after conceding Alvaro Negredo's winner just before halftime.
"Our enthusiasm and attitude is to score goals, but when you've got three or four minutes until half-time, it's important you manage the game and we didn't quite do that at that period," he added.
"But I thought we were excellent in our attitude. Some of the quality of our movement and passing was exceptional, and for me it was great to see because it's what we try to work on out on the training field.
"We've lost the game, but we take a great deal of encouragement from it."
Liverpool last finished in the top four in the 2008-09 season and won the last of their 18 titles in 1989-90. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by John O'Brien)
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