Rodgers: The season can start here

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Published: Friday 7th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insists his side have learned from last season’s crushing defeat to Chelsea and will go looking for the victory he hopes will kick-start their season.

Last April Jose Mourinho, under whom Rodgers worked first time around at Stamford Bridge, came to Anfield with a tactical plan to stifle and frustrate and take advantage of any weakness.

It worked perfectly as the then free-scoring home side failed to break down a disciplined defence and were caught twice on the counter-attack – the first coming, now famously, after Steven Gerrard’s slip allowed Demba Ba to race through to score.

The defeat was the beginning of the end of Liverpool’s title dream but now the tables have turned and it is Chelsea who are in top spot, unbeaten in their opening 10 matches.

Mourinho will have adapted his game plan for Saturday but Rodgers insists his team are ready for the considerable challenge which awaits them, having already lost at home to Aston Villa and been held by Everton and Hull.

“We will have learned from that. This is a new challenge and it will be a tough game,” said Rodgers.

“Chelsea were obviously strong last year and they have big experience in their squad and know the league and that helps them massively.

“Add to that the players who have come in and Diego Costa, one of Europe’s top strikers, and Cesc Fabregas, who knows the league and is a real creative force, and add (Eden) Hazard to that who is one of the best young players in the world and they are a strong outfit.

“This offers us a great chance at home to get a great result and then hopefully that can kick-start the season for us.

“I can see the improvements in us day-by-day.

“We’ve had injuries and in patches we have shown the level of our game is okay but it is not consistent enough and we haven’t scored as many goals as last season.

“We are trying to find that solution and balance but that is something which is ongoing.”

Part of Rodgers’ problem is that few of his players are operating at the level they were in the second half of last season when they seemed destined to end their 24-year wait for the title.

It means he does not really know what his strongest team is, which is why all the furore over his team selection against Real Madrid in midweek needed to be viewed with some degree of perspective.

“My job is just to focus on our games,” added the Reds boss.

“I will always think in the best possible way for Liverpool and look at every performance making the fans proud and it will be the same this weekend when we will pick a team to win the game.”

While Rodgers will recall big names like Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling – all rested in the Bernabeu – others may find they have been overtaken.

With defence being such a problem again this season the performance of Kolo Toure, who had not started anything other a Capital One Cup match since mid-February, has put £20million summer signing Dejan Lovren under threat.

The 33-year-old Ivory Coast international had come to be viewed as a centre-back always likely to make a mistake but he barely put a foot wrong against the world-class talent of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.

“Kolo was outstanding on the night and it is a great mark of his professionalism that he can come in and play as well as he did,” said Rodgers.

“One of the reasons we wanted to bring him in was because he was the right type of character.

“He knew that he may not play as many games as he has done in the past but his influence off the field and his character is contagious.

“He loves football and has a wonderful enthusiasm for the game and whether he’s in the team or not, he’s always the same: supporting the players.

“When called upon he can do a good job, as we saw the other night with his leadership qualities and organisation.

“Overall, I thought he and Martin Skrtel were outstanding.”

Jose Mourinho believes the football authorities wanted Chelsea to lose at Anfield last April to hand Liverpool a first championship in 24 years.

Mourinho was frustrated that Chelsea’s request to bring the Premier League match forward from the Sunday preceding their Champions League semi-final second leg with Atletico Madrid, which the Blues lost, was rejected.

“I felt that day was a day that was ready for their celebration,” Mourinho told Gary Neville last month in a Telegraph interview.

“They want us to be the clowns in the circus. The circus is here. Liverpool are to be champions.”

Speaking on the eve of Chelsea’s trip to Anfield, Mourinho was asked who the “clowns” were that he was referring to.

“Not Liverpool. I was talking about the situation,” Mourinho said.

“When people make the decision to make us play on Sunday when we had to play the Champions League semi-final second leg two days later it’s because they don’t want you to compete, they want you to go and lose.

“Liverpool did what they had to do (in not moving the fixture). Try to have the easiest possible game to be champions. Everybody knows if they draw that game they’re champions.

“We went there, we gave everything, but we did that against Liverpool. We would do the same (against other opposition).

“We were the pros. We did what we had to do. I don’t think the people that made the decision to make us play that day did a professional job.”

Mourinho’s perception was that the game had the feel of a coronation, with bunting present on an emotionally-charged occasion close to the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy.

Liverpool captain Gerrard’s slip allowed Demba Ba to race clear and score and Willian scored a late second as Chelsea won 2-0.

Asked specifically about Gerrard’s error, Mourinho said: “It gave the title to Man City. It’s as simple as that.

“Liverpool, with a point in that match, are champions and because they lost that match they lost the title.

“It meant nothing to us after our defeat against Sunderland. Our position was third position.

“That match meant just the professional pride – you have to go to every match and try to win.”

Liverpool are 12 points behind Chelsea after 10 games of the current season having endured a challenging start following the sale of talismanic striker Luis Suarez.

Mourinho, who has a fully-fit squad to choose from and plans to start Diego Costa despite the striker’s exclusion from the Spain squad, thinks Rodgers’ men should not dwell on the past.

“I think they have not to think about last season, they have enough motivations for this season,” Mourinho added.

“If I was in their position I would go back to last season for the good memories. (But) it’s up to them.”

Despite the points gap between the two clubs, Mourinho insists Rodgers’ side remain title rivals.

He added: “They are fighting for the title, the same as we are.

“Last season when we played them we were not fighting for the title because we had a surprise the match before, (losing) against Sunderland that stopped us going to Anfield to discuss the title.

“This moment is different because both teams are fighting.”

Costa will miss Spain’s Euro 2016 qualifying match with Belarus and friendly with World Cup winners Germany later this month.

Mourinho will play Costa, scorer of nine goals in eight league games, at Liverpool, before enforcing rest to allow him to recover from his persistent hamstring problems.

“He starts the game,” Mourinho said.

“The plan is immediately after the match to have a period of complete rest. No training, no treatment.”

Mourinho insisted he did not intervene to request Spain boss Vicente del Bosque would not call on Costa.

Mourinho said: “I want to make it very, very clear that I did nothing for that to happen.

“It’s very good news for him, for us and also for the national team.

“Now he has to go in the right direction. It’s good for Spain to have a good Diego and not a so-so Diego.”

Published: Friday 7th November 2014 by The News Editor

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