Anfield and Brendan Rodgers begin the long journey out of the shadows of the reign of King Kenny
Monday 27 August 2012
It had rained all week on Merseyside; wet enough for the Creamfields pop festival up the road in Warrington to be abandoned. It would, however, have needed a monsoon to wash the blood out of Anfield.
Liverpool are a club that has committed regicide. The removal of Kenny Dalglish was a big, big call; the argument for it was not overwhelming and to most who crammed into the old stadium yesterday he was an icon – a poster on their bedroom wall, a line in a song, a keeper of their flame.
Anfield's last league game here had seen Dalglish lead his side on a lap of honour after Chelsea had been crushed 4-1. He walked very slowly past each banner-draped corner of the ground, almost as if he knew – and maybe he did already know – that he would not be returning.
This was a big, big moment for Brendan Rodgers. The club's American owners had always wanted a young, intelligent, innovative manager. At one time it might have been Jurgen Klopp from Borussia Dortmund or Andre Villas-Boas rather than the boy from the Antrim coast.
In many ways, despite the radical changes Rodgers has made – there were only four survivors in this starting line-up from that game against Chelsea – it was a game that echoed how Dalglish's sides had performed at Anfield last season. Liverpool played well, they entertained and yet they did not win.
Whoever had succeeded Dalglish would have had to journey long and far to escape their predecessor's shadow or the rhythmic, menacing chants of "Dalglish" that had so haunted Roy Hodgson's brief time at Liverpool. It was not sounded once on an afternoon that made what Rodgers called "the journey" appear a little less daunting.
Defensively, however, Liverpool have now conceded five times in two games and displayed self-destructive tendencies that mirror the Spice Boys of Roy Evans at their worst. It was typical of Rodgers that he should say Martin Skrtel's fatal back-pass had been brave rather than foolish.
He must have feared Manchester City would inflict greater damage. Rodgers was facing the champions of England without his best defender, Daniel Agger, and with a side that is very much a work in progress. His latest acquisition, Real Madrid's Turkish midfielder Nuri Sahin, watched from the directors' box with a scarf around his neck.
Rodgers' other signings, Joe Allen and Fabio Borini, performed well enough under pressure to suggest that the fear factor that comes with playing at Anfield, and which notably has seemed to inhibit Jordan Henderson, will not infect them.
"Bittersweet is the perfect way to sum it up," said Allen, cradling a man-of-the match champagne that but for a single disastrous pass to Carlos Tevez might have gone to Skrtel.
"He is 5ft 6in," said Rodgers, his manager at Swansea and now Liverpool, "but as a footballer Joe stands 7ft 6in tall and the supporters will enjoy watching him play."
Choosing the teenage Raheem Sterling to face the champions of England suggested that whatever he may be, Rodgers will be bold. It has been quite a summer for Jamaicans with pace to burn and Sterling, born in Kingston but brought up in London, possesses that. His signing, from the Queen's Park Rangers academy, was one of the last acts carried out under Rafa Benitez, another whose regime carries with it a fair dollop of nostalgia at Anfield.
Sterling had only made his full debut in the 1-0 win over Heart of Midlothian last Thursday night but, as Theo Walcott has shown, there is something purely electric about a young man who attacks defences at speed – although Sterling was helped by the defence he was running at, one that has now conceded two goals in each of its first three games.
"Was it a hard decision to pick him?" Rodgers wondered aloud. "No, it was an easy decision.
"I told the players that I will not judge them on their status at the club, I will judge them on what I see in front of me."
What he saw was the first step on Liverpool's journey away from its past.
Is Sterling the new Barnes?
Raheem Sterling impressed yesterday but Brendan Rodgers had contemplated sending him on loan before his display in the Europa League at Hearts. Sterling, 17, has been compared with the Liverpool great John Barnes. Both wingers were born in Kingston and grew up.
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