Liverpool are ‘one year ahead’ of schedule in title quest, says Brendan Rodgers

 

You cannot avoid the old guard at Anfield with their stories of how first was first and second was nowhere and one of Brendan Rodgers’ favourite tales was how the league championship medals used to be dished out at Liverpool.

A box would arrive at Melwood from the Football League and, after training, the players would pick one up, if they felt they deserved it. Winning trophies at Liverpool was a matter-of-fact affair.

When you ask the men who paraded the league championship trophy for the last time at Anfield on 1 May, 1990 to sum up the atmosphere, they will tell you it was rather flat, blase almost. That is precisely the atmosphere Rodgers wants to create.

“That’s what you want,” he said. “You want it to be that you are expected to win. You look at the team that won the league in 1990 and there was an expectancy on them because they were serial winners. They churned out trophies and that would be our aim.”

The man who is leading Liverpool’s romantic and improbable charge for a first title in 24 years makes the point that they have won nothing yet. Last season Rodgers made all kinds of forecasts as to where Liverpool might end up only to see them cast 28 points adrift of Manchester United, the team they dismissed effortlessly last Sunday.

This time he has been more cautious. It is perhaps because this is such a young team. They would be the youngest side to take the title since Alan Hansen told Manchester United in 1995 they would win nothing with kids. Of the 14 men who made up the core of Kenny Dalglish’s final title-winning squad, only two, David Burrows and Gary Ablett, were under 25.

“We have tried to take the pressure off them,” said Rodgers, who added that his Liverpool side were “a year ahead” of where he imagined they might be. “If you look at the big games, the young players have all performed well.” He pointed to Raheem Sterling’s two goals in the 5-1 rout of Arsenal and Jon Flanagan’s display against Juan Mata at Old Trafford.

Rodgers’ players might not be encouraged to look much beyond this afternoon’s game at Cardiff City, where they have not won a league fixture since 1929, but the manager’s horizons are already more distant. “I am not just looking at this season,” he said. “I have found a home here, where, hopefully, I can be for a long time. Whatever happens this year, I believe we can be better next year. That is the plan.”

Next season Liverpool should be in the Champions League. Roy Evans, whose thrilling if brittle “Spice Boys” are perhaps the nearest equivalent in terms of style to this team, used to say that a season without European football was “like a banquet without wine”.

This Liverpool squad are probably too young to have handled the hard stuff. Returning to Melwood in the small hours of Friday morning after a distant fixture in the Europa League would have destabilised them. “I said at the start of the season that this might be the one year where it might be good for us to be out of Europe,” said Rodgers.

If Liverpool were to win the title, they would become the most unexpected champions for a generation. Not since Aston Villa in 1981 have a club come from seventh the previous season to win the title. “Our vision is very simple,” Rodgers said. “It is to win trophies, to play attacking, exciting football and with as many young players from our academy base. If we can create something that will roll out over a number of years, then that is why I was brought in. This is only the beginning.”

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