AUGUST 20. Aye, here we are with problems after two games, two wins and two clean sheets. Six points and zero goals zipping past Simon Mignolet. Five more than Chelsea, shipping in five less than them. Did you predict that before the campaign kicked off? Sure you did.
Last season, the taste of consecutive league victories only touched Liverpool tongues on the afternoon of October 19. And it wasn’t until the turn of the new year — January 17 to be exact — when Liverpool were first fist-pumping over back-to-back clean sheets.
Things are different. No waiting months this time around. Straight in and straight with the Ws. It’s only the sixth time in Premier League history the Reds have managed triumphs in their first two games, and it’s the second occasion under Brendan Rodgers. See also 2013-14.
This start should be savoured, but it has been sneered at. Liverpool haven’t rolled out of bed yet and are rolling in maximum points, however some only view this through a series of buts…
But the side haven’t clicked yet. But Arsenal is the true test. But if it wasn’t for the worldy and the luck of the decisions. But, but, but.
Here’s my but — but the league table doesn’t have a column for comments.
Two out of two doesn’t mean it’s time to break out the bottles of Moët, and yes — Liverpool have to make it about points plus performances, but they’ve given themselves a base to build on. The list of things to improve on is lengthy, but while that process is in progress, wins are most welcome.
There’s been an introduction of eight new players to the squad, an extreme makeover to the coaching staff, an adaption of style and the adjustment to the Liverpool-less-Steven Gerrard equation. It’s all change. As James Milner put it: “Right now, we can’t ask for more than six points out of six.”
A positive start to the season was non-negotiable. Some had been playing Hangman all summer with BRE_D_N ROD_ E_S, waiting for the campaign to kick off so they could finish the letters, tighten the noose and smugly wave ta ra. Some are still crossing fingers for any and every slip. Sorry lads, as it stands, the goals against bracket is looking pretty good for a man who can’t organise a defence.
Solidity, he has said, is key. And he doesn’t say much these days, does Brendan. With all the changes, the winds have swept him too: a little less conversation, a little more action. His press conferences have been direct as opposed to descriptive, he is more authoritative, and he is uninterested in disruptions — at whatever cost. There is a renewed focus which smacks you in the face when you pass him at Melwood, and the vibe around the complex has shifted: the renovations to reception have been met with alterations in attitude — it’s all business in West Derby.
Last season, and the 6-1 mauling by Stoke in particular, changed Rodgers. “It allowed me to go away and define how I wanted to move the club forward again,” he admitted.
“I’m as driven now — if not more — as the first day I came in here.”
That much is evident. And necessary. Rodgers is operating from a position of power, having being fully backed by the owners, yet he is under more professional pressure than ever.
It’s all on him now. It’s his way. He has certainly modified his leadership style again.
“When I first came in, I was very autocratic, very hard-line; ‘This is my philosophy, this is how I work.’ I then became more democratic in my second phase here, more educational,” he explained to me in an interview last April.
“I had the players I want and they started understanding, so it was about furthering that. I’m now at a stage where I’m multi-functional and multi-dimensional.”
With another mass introduction of signings, as well as integrating three new members to the coaching staff, and having a squad where 22 players are 25 and under, perhaps Rodgers has popped back into his autocratic stance until everyone and everything settles?
There are criticisms the manager has betrayed his beliefs in the first two games, with Liverpool looking to go long to Christian Benteke instead of constructing from the back. During the club’s title tilt, Rodgers was also accused of straying from his philosophy, and had explained that “nothing has changed, except with time and the constant exposure to the ideas, the players have adapted.”
Liverpool will still look to dominate the ball and strangle opponents with intensity, but they’ve also got the option to switch it up with Benteke. While the striker is learning how to get the best out of his teammates and vice versa, fight will have to eclipse fluidity.
“When the players are confident and have belief, when it all does click they are rewarded for it and achieve through it,” said Rodgers last year. “Then comes the acclaim for their dynamics, the style, the beauty of the football. But you have to go through all the barriers and hurdles first before you can get there.”
Liverpool have gone through two barriers, with six points and two clean sheets to show for it. The rest will come.
Pepijn Lijnders sat in the director’s box for a while on Monday night, and could be heard in the press box praising every quick interchange with ‘Yes! That’s the game.’
There have been changes, lots of them — as was needed, but Liverpool know their game. We just have to wait for it to click, and if the Reds continue picking up points until then, I’d rather smile than sulk about it.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo