Sunday 23 July 2017

Rodgers gives Reds good reason to dream

Liverpool boss increasingly impressive in how he communicates his vision for club

Brendan Rodgers has transformed Liverpool into the highest-scoring team in the Premier League
Brendan Rodgers has transformed Liverpool into the highest-scoring team in the Premier League
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

On Thursday, Brendan Rodgers spoke for just under 19 minutes to the assembled media at Melwood. With Cardiff as his team's weekend destination, the journalistic heavy-hitters would have stayed away, drawn more likely to the London briefing on offer from Arsene Wenger approaching his 1,000th Arsenal game.

That Wenger would mark that watershed with a lunchtime showdown against Jose Mourinho's Chelsea today fed perfectly into the sense of media having bigger fish to fry. Factor in yesterday's Champions League quarter-finals draw and Rodgers would have known that, for all the hype surrounding last Sunday's remarkable win at Old Trafford, Liverpool were secondary news again.

He took the opportunity to provide a note-perfect example as to why, suddenly, a mystique is building up around his restoration of the club as a serious football force.

Thursday's address wasn't exactly General Patton on the eve of D-Day or Franklin D Roosevelt responding to Pearl Harbour, nor did it ever engage with the now compelling reality that Liverpool are authentic challengers for a first ever Premier League crown.


But it did capture his understanding of the club's vast following and a desire therein to be represented by a manager capable of distinguishing the great philosophical gulf that can exist between the humble and the meek.

Rodgers is increasingly impressive in how he communicates his vision for Liverpool, remaining innately respectful, yet increasingly strident in his assertion of what should constitute a natural level of expectation at Anfield.

On Thursday: "The expectancy is to win every game, so the pressure doesn't change. When you play for Liverpool, it's home and away, every single game."

Those of us who recoiled from the wretched 'Being Liverpool' TV series that coincided with his arrival saw too much syrupy dialogue to be confident that, in Kenny Dalglish's place, the club had signed anything other than a craven politician.

Yet, hindsight suggests that hapless conceit to have been inflicted upon Rodgers by American owners selling a product they simply, at the time, did not understand.

Today, he articulates a pugnacious vision of Liverpool that – crucially – escaped Roy Hodgson during his troubled time at the Anfield helm.

On Thursday: "We're one of the world's biggest clubs, so when you play, you play with dominance. For us it's to dominate the ball and be the aggressor in the game. That's with and without the ball.

"You know our work without the ball is to press, to suffocate the opponent. Then obviously with the ball to show that charisma and arrogance."

Dalglish patently did not lack such qualities, yet he couldn't summon the clarity of tactic that has, of late, identified Rodgers' teams as the most difficult to decode.

Steven Gerrard spoke this week of how Liverpool now endlessly adjust their shape to suit specific opponents. This tactical nous enabled them to outplay Manchester City in December at a time when the Etihad was coming to represent a coconut-shy for rampant hosts.

Since losing those successive away contests 2-1 to City and Chelsea just after Christmas, Liverpool have won eight and drawn two of their 10 Premier League outings. In doing so, they have also averaged in excess of three goals per game.

On Thursday: "Whatever structure we play, our style stays the same. We want to dominate the ball."

Rodgers' development of players, particularly of young, previously derided figures like Jon Flanagan, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, his management of Luis Suarez, his nurturing of Daniel Sturridge, his re-invention of Gerrard, his calm tinkering with a defence that has, at times, been a ticking time-bomb, all speak of a man equipped to answer the supporters' most fervent prayer now.

That prayer, undoubtedly, is the deliverance of a Premier League title. If he can do it in a year marking the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough, suffice to say the sense of Rodgers being somehow Heaven-sent will become profound.

For now, he knows that beating Manchester United still holds an iron grip on the supporters' affections and, so, the efficacy of last Sunday's win was never going to escape him.

On Thursday: "There's not too many arenas in the world bigger than Old Trafford. You know, seventy five-odd thousand supporters. It was Manchester United's ground, it was mostly their supporters, but it was our ball and it was our game."

Liverpool remain third favourites in the bookies' minds and, of the four contenders, they undoubtedly possess the shallowest squad.

But what they do have is impetus and history and a growing sense that in Brendan Rodgers they might just have call now upon the sharpest of managerial minds.

"I think it's great for the supporters to dream," he said on Thursday.

Better still for them to follow a man who gives them reason.


Loss of form leaves Neymar in limbo

SO, will Gerardo Martino bow to the majority bidding of Barcelona supporters and leave Neymar benched for tomorrow's 'Clasico'?

The Brazilian's form has tapered alarmingly as an investigation into the true cost of his recruitment (now put at £71.5m) unearthed a cat's cradle of surreptitious sub-clauses.

Barcelona hit seven last weekend with a three-pronged attack of Lionel Messi, Pedro and Alexis Sanchez, and now only boardroom pressure seems likely to complicate Martino's thinking.

For Neymar, football super-stardom must suddenly feel like a tightening ligature.

This summer, the hopes of a nation will rest upon his efforts to become to Brazil what Maradona became to Argentina in '86.

Without his goals, who will shoot Brazil to glory? Fred? Jo? No pressure then.


Vultures may disperse in Tipp's summer sky

THERE was a time when Tipperary hurling seemed inoculated against feelings of insecurity, but those days appear distant now.

Eamon O'Shea admits to an "edgy" mood in the county surrounding tomorrow's Allianz League tie against Dublin with even victory unlikely to protect Tipp from a relegation play-off.

Given that they were lucky not to lose their opening-round game to Waterford, the doomsayers now crowd around O'Shea's team like vultures anticipating a carcass.

But remember this: by the end of May, last year's league had spun the lie that only Kilkenny and Tipperary truly mattered. Two months later, both were parked up on cinder blocks.

Irish Independent

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