"Today was another indicator that the winning mentality we're growing and evolving all the time in the group is becoming stronger," was Brendan Rodgers' reaction when asked to reflect on his first victory over Manchester United as Liverpool manager. "You could see from the reaction that the togetherness is very good and that is going to be important for us this year.
"We drew too many of the big games last year and we lost home and away to Manchester United, so today was another step to show we're going in the right direction—but there's still a long way to go. The initial challenge this year is to try and get into the top four and be in the conversation for as long as we can. I don't think we can look at anything beyond that for a long time yet."
However, as with Liverpool's victory over Notts County in the League Cup on Tuesday, Sunday's victory came at a cost with right back Glen Johnson having his night cut short following a hard challenge on Patrice Evra. At the time, Johnson appeared Liverpool's man of the match, and for now Rodgers can only hope the defender will be fit for action following the international break.
"He took a bad knock," said the manager. "He turned onto his ankle [and] he's getting treatment at the moment. It's obviously quite bad for him to come off, but I'll just need to see."
Worryingly for fans and the manager, Johnson wasn't the only player to end the night with injury concerns—though in the case of the on form Daniel Sturridge, Rodgers revealed that the striker started the game well short of full fitness. And for Sturridge, that he hasn't been at full fitness yet this season doesn't appear to have diminished his scoring touch.
"I'm delighted with [Sturridge's] application because he was nowhere near fit today," Rodgers said. "He played a full game and extra-time during the week and he had a slight knock on his thigh. But this is what we've been speaking to him about—just putting yourself out there.
"Even at 70 per cent he'll be as good as—if not better than—a lot of Premier League strikers, so you've got to find the will and desire to want to push yourself. He did that today and got his reward for it. He showed great anticipation coming off the 'keeper for the goal and always when he's on the pitch he can be a threat."
Rodgers' faith in Sturridge seems to have already helped to elevate the striker far beyond the player he was at Chelsea, while questions of attitude and application that haunted his early career appear increasingly irrelevant. And just how much that means to Sturridge was made clear when he ran straight for Rodgers to celebrate his first half goal—already his fifth in four matches to this season and the 16th in 17 starts since arriving in January.