Rodgers: "It Feels Different This Year"

Clive Brunskill

Following an opening day victory over Stoke, Brendan Rodgers spoke of the new season feeling different for Liverpool, but any newfound optimism owes its existence to Simon Mignolet's late penalty stop.

There may have been a few strikes that hit the woodwork and an opposition goalkeeper managing to have the game of his career, but despite that some of the same issues that plagued Brendan Rodgers' side last season persisted as the current campaign got underway, this time around Liverpool escaped a nervy match with all three points and some much needed positive momentum.

"I remember last year and people saying to me 'should we be losing 3-0 to West Brom?'" began the Liverpool manager as he reflected on an at times uneven first season that included far too many stumbles against opposition below them in the table to mount the hoped-for top four challenge. "They were absolutely right, but we've got better and better as we've gone on.

"It's a big job here, but I just got the feeling in the dressing room before [Stoke], when the players were getting together, some of our staff were saying that it just feels different this year. There's a camaraderie and a togetherness there. We haven't won the World Cup, it's a game of football. But the lads are happy, they've done their job. They knew this was a big three points."

Liverpool certainly have got better as a team under Rodgers, and it's hard to argue that after a few lean years the team isn't heading in the right direction. Still, for all their good work against Stoke on the weekend—and for all that on the balance of play Liverpool likely deserved to take all three points—things could so easily have gone badly.

Liverpool's missed chances and the lack of a clinical, killer edge in and around the penalty area could have come back to haunt them yet again. The inability to put the game away, to allow a dominanted opponent to equalise—or worse—against the run of play could very well have been the story coming out. And judging by the increasingly nervy play towards the end of Saturday's match, more than a few of Liverpool's players rather seemed as though they expected something would go wrong despite Rodgers' talk of how things felt different heading into the match.

In which case, what a difference a late penalty stop can make. Without Simon Mignolet's late double save following the awarding of a penalty to Stoke for a Daniel Agger handball, nobody would now be talking about camaraderie and togetherness before the match signalling that this was a new Liverpool side for a new season with a newfound mental fortitude and that might just have the ability to push themselves back into the Champions League discussion.

If a season can have a defining moment in its first match, then it hardly seems a stretch to suggest that any success Liverpool might have from here on out will owe an awful lot to Simon Mignolet guessing the right way when he stared down Jon Walters.

"The penalty save was an incredible moment because it more or less meant we had won the game," said the stopper of the moment that saved Liverpool's victory. "It doesn't really happen that a goalkeeper directly secures the points. You can't score goals so for something like this to come around is great and will help my confidence for the next game.

"I saved a penalty in the Tyne and Wear derby and believe me that was loud. But this was more about the moment, my first game as a Liverpool player. It was unbelievable to help out on my debut and I am a happy man."

So too is Brendan Rodgers—and so too are all the Liverpool fans who spent an increasingly nervous second half expecting the worst. Thanks to that penalty save, all of a sudden Liverpool's players and manager can talk of a new feel and new mentality and not have it sound of desperate, hollow hope. Now they can talk of how this year feels different.

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