Friday 13 December 2019

'Belief is going to make us real force next season'

Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers

Andy Hunter

Liverpool need their rivals to slip up to claim the title but Brendan Rodgers insists his side will get even better.

There is an element of doubt about the destination of the Premier League title but only certainty in Brendan Rodgers that Liverpool will fight "to the wire", that there will be nerves at Manchester City and Steven Gerrard's misfortune will not define the season should Manuel Pellegrini's team prevail.

That dubious honour, he says, belongs to Raheem Sterling's disallowed goal at City last December.

Liverpool, to claim their first league championship since 1990, must beat Newcastle United at Anfield and hope West Ham United win at the Etihad Stadium. First they must pick themselves off the floor having surrendered a three-goal lead in nine minutes at Crystal Palace on Monday to leave Luis Suarez in tears and Rodgers conceding the title to City.

Away from the maelstrom of Selhurst Park, however, the Liverpool manager has reconsidered.

Rodgers explains: "One of the things that stood out for me in my last game at Swansea was that one or two of the Liverpool players were on holiday. They'd just lost the [FA] Cup final, probably a few of them had gone out during the week and then came into our game. We murdered Liverpool 1-0.

"One of the first things I said to the players when I arrived here was that they would be worked intensely from the first day of pre-season until the final whistle goes at the last game. That is why the training this week has been as intense as in pre-season. And why it will go right to the wire.

"It will be interesting if we make one of our quick starts and get up in the game. Then there'll be a point when we're up and City are drawing. It's not nice when you know there's another team playing that can win.

"When you know you have to not lose, it's uncomfortable. It's not over by any stretch of the imagination and West Ham are a really good defensive unit. Andy Carroll can score goals, they've got other players who can score goals and there will be a nervousness there."

City supporters have taken to singing about Gerrard's slip against Chelsea in recent matches, revelling in the moment Demba Ba scored and their team profited in the title race. Rodgers is aware of the song but says the incorrect offside call against Sterling at the Etihad Stadium, which resulted in him being fined for questioning referee Lee Mason's integrity, ranks higher as a pivotal incident in the season.

"Stevie will probably take it as a huge compliment and he should do," said Rodgers. "When someone of that greatness and ability, it's just unfortunate what happened to him, but it could have happened to anyone. It would be more unfortunate if the decision at Man City, when I got fined £8,000, might define the season. The offside. I was the guy who never speaks about referees. Sterling is clearly onside and in on goal. If we get a goal then . . . It's the only time in my life I've been fined. I knew at that time it might be significant. So that might define our season. It won't be Stevie's slip.

"He's achieved so much in his career and he's still got a few seasons to go. We'll do everything we can as a football club over the next few years to hopefully allow supporters not to sing that."

There will be echoes of Manchester United's title slip in 1991-92 about Liverpool should City secure the point they need against West Ham. Anfield sang "You lost the league on Merseyside" as United's long wait for a title continued, only for Alex Ferguson's team to rebound and win the league by 10 points the following season. Whatever happens on today, Rodgers is adamant his team will be stronger for this season's experience.

"The key ingredient we take away from this season will be belief," he added.

"From day one I've been trying to instil in the players that this way of working can bring us success and that's difficult when you haven't had it. But this is the best challenge the club has had to be right up there. Steven at 33 has had it for the first time in his career. We're going to be better for that and we'll go into next season with belief and that is going to make us a real force next year.

"Other teams will improve, of course. Chelsea will buy a striker, other teams will buy other players but we'll be better as well. That's something I'll look forward to next season – making that challenge greater."


Liverpool v Newcastle Utd

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