London – Brendan Rodgers had barely settled into his seat when he was dealt a blunt question that outlined the challenge facing Liverpool this season.
With John W Henry and his Fenway Sports Group celebrating the Boston Red Sox’s World Series baseball triumph, and Liverpool Ladies recently winning the Women’s title for the first time, it was inevitable what was coming.
So, Brendan, can you complete a treble for your owners by leading Liverpool to the championship?
‘Oh, it will be straightforward, won’t it?!” said Rodgers, neatly sidestepping the enquiry.
A few minutes later, however, in the sanctuary of a small interview room at Melwood, there was no joking as he surveyed what can be expected from Liverpool.
Rodgers has been circumspect during his side’s impressive start, maintaining 10 games would be the right time to make definitive assessments. A haul of 20 points from the first nine fixtures has raised the prospect that Liverpool are credible top-four contenders and Rodgers would not argue the point.
If anything, he went a step further. Such is the confidence he has in his group, he believes whatever the result against Arsenal on Saturday, Liverpool will be in a Champions League spot at the campaign’s end.
‘This is a good benchmark for us,”” said Rodgers, who will be boosted at the Emirates Stadium by the return of influential midfielder Philippe Coutinho. ‘We’ve shown we have quality in the team and that we have got a winning mentality, which is important.
“And we have shown that we can consistently bring that to the table. Saturday won’t be the be-all and end-all in terms of whether we can make the top four or not, but what we have shown so far is that we are going to be in the conversation.
“We want to be challenging and winning trophies here. That’s what Liverpool is about and there is never any shying away from that. That expectancy will always be here. That’s something we relish and look forward to.
“I believe we’re in a good moment. We’ve started the season as we would have wanted – strong. We’re putting a marker down that we will be consistent. After that early period, we’ve played very well. We can only get better and improve.
“We have a lot of young players who are developing. Everyone talks about Daniel Sturridge, at 24, improving all the time. Everyone talks about Luis Suarez, his goals and workrate, but I’ve seen an improvement in his footballing ability and his maturity this year.”
Given Arsenal’s aggressive pursuit of Suarez in summer, which culminated in a bid of £40million plus £1 for the Uruguay forward, there will be an edge to Saturday’s game. Liverpool’s ambitions hinge largely on his continued excellence.
There will not, though, be any animosity between the two managers.
“He changed the landscape with his ideas and methods of work,” Rodgers said of Arsene Wenger. “He inherited a talented group of players. And then he changed the club’s identity. Arsenal Football Club is very much Arsene Wenger on and off the field. He is one I respect.
“He’s a man who has been brilliant for English football. He’s been trying to win trophies; I’m sure he’ll see this as a chance to do so.”
Suarez has scored on his last two visits to the Emirates, the first in August 2011 during Liverpool’s sole win at Arsenal in 16 attempts since Titi Camara gave Gerard Houllier’s side a 1-0 victory in February 2000.
This latest collision has the potential to be the game of the season so far and while Arsenal have been lauded for the way Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere have been playing in midfield, Liverpool have the hottest strikers. Sturridge, especially, has been exceptional.
“I’d say the biggest difference is I’m back to my natural thoughts and I’ve got no clouded vision when I’m on the field,” Sturridge told Sport magazine. “That’s probably the main thing that has changed. I needed to be believed in, to play as a centre forward at a club.
“I didn’t get that at Chelsea, and Brendan gave me the opportunity to do that here. We work well together, and it’s great to be part of his philosophy. He gets the most out of his players and makes us want to win for him.” – Daily Mail