Andrew Gillooley, Vancouver. August 26th 2013:
Liverpool’s early season victories over Stoke City and Aston Villa have placed Brendan Rodgers in a position that he will be unfamiliar with ahead of Sunday’s match against Manchester United. For the first time in his spell as Liverpool manager, Rodgers finds himself facing the most bitter of rivals with the new found weight of expectation that has developed as a result of his team’s strong start to the new season.
No Liverpool manager is ever free from expectancy, the Anfield trophy cabinet makes sure of that; but the recent fall from the top table, coupled with the depressing Roy Hodgson era and the destructive influence of the Hicks and Gillette reign meant that Rodgers’ first season had the distinct feel of a free ride. Fans receptive to the new manager’s approach and understanding of the financial burden of breaking into the Champions League places have allowed time for the team to develop.
With maximum points taken from their first two games though, Liverpool play host to the reigning champions with a renewed sense of optimism. This will ensure that there is a feverish atmosphere awaiting the side this weekend as they look to build on their best start in five years. While serving to spur the team on to new levels it will also bring with it the pressure and burden of playing in front of a crowd that will demand a result.
The club’s business during the current transfer window hasn’t helped to inspire the crowd as of yet. New faces will be needed to maintain the feel good factor in the stands. Having seen key transfer targets slip through the cracks over disagreements over player valuations, wages or a lack of Champions League football, the window has been decidedly underwhelming so far. With several players leaving the club already and a positive net spend, Liverpool are very much in a position to strengthen the squad. Convincing the quality of players that are required to move the club forward to buy into the project has been a challenge up to this point, and a reappraisal of how the club looks to conduct its business might be needed.
The business done by Liverpool during last season’s January transfer window can be looked to for inspiration. Phillipe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge were both excellent acquisitions. The pair have gone on to show their worth in their first half season at Anfield and have entered into the new term in fantastic form. While obviously still lacking in match fitness following his injury while on International duty, Sturridge has shown himself to be a capable match winner, stepping up in Luis Suarez’s absence and being clinical enough to score the only goal in each of his first two matches.
Beyond the two January arrivals the team has shown plenty of promise in the victories over Stoke and Aston Villa. Simon Mignolet enjoyed the perfect start to his Liverpool career with a match saving penalty save in the dieing minutes. He followed it up with a series of excellent stops to deny Villa and ensure that Liverpool came back from Birmingham with a valuable three points. Likewise Toure’s introduction has been a breath of fresh air. He has dominated against imposing forward lines, and appears to be enjoying his football more than ever. That he was identified as the perfect replacement for the retiring Jamie Carragher and brought in on a free transfer represents some of the best business of the summer.
Further up the pitch the signs have been encouraging for a Liverpool team still finding its style. In phases during the two opening matches, the opposition have quite simply been unable to live with the movement and controlled possession displayed by the Reds. The first 35 minutes away at Aston Villa showed the level that this team can reach, they hardly gave the home side a sniff, regaining possession with a high tempo pressing game before recycling the ball intelligently and allowing the smart movement of the front three to open up holes in and around the box.
Despite all of this though a very promising season could well still await Liverpool. If they can offer a boost with one or two players with real quality ahead of the transfer window closing on August 31st; and if they continue to control games and win matches even when they aren’t playing well, they will be much closer to the top four come the end of this season. An Anfield crowd baying for United blood, with a new level of expectation should not worry Rodgers, indeed if approached right it could well represent the difference between a good start to the season, and a great one.Liverpool play Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday September 1st. The match will be screened live at The Butcher and Bullock in Vancouver from 5.30am with LFC Vancouver.