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Defying Expectations

It would be reductive in the extreme to attribute all the credit for Liverpool's position atop the division to just two men, but in Brendan Rodgers and Luis Suarez the club have a pair of talents performing at the very best level of their careers to date.

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As Brendan presented his forearm, Luis had a choice to make...
As Brendan presented his forearm, Luis had a choice to make...
Jan Kruger

One of the less galling aspects of growing older is that, theoretically at least, one can place things in some form of valid perspective. Great triumphs can be measured mentally against previous glories and crushing lows may be viewed in the light of former calamities. In this way, or so the received wisdom goes, one can avoid excesses in emotional response. Stoicism and cool reserve can hold sway in the face of the raging torrent of intemperate passion one associates with the less experienced or the more emotionally immoderate.

So much for the theory. As Christmas Eve dawns, Liverpool Football Club sit at the top of the Premier League on merit and I won't lie to you, dear reader, I am improperly, disproportionately excited by this. The calm detachment and taciturn coolness befitting a man of my vintage has quite deserted me and I've decided to bask in this moment.

You see, years on the odometer don't just give one perspective, they make one eager to appreciate the occasions on which joy can infuse even the darkest soul with a little hope. After a year that continues to redefine the concepts of heartbreak and frustration on a personal level and over two decades of Liverpool-induced anxiety, this scribbler is frankly loving the reality, no matter how fleeting, that the team to which I am ineluctably bound is in the highest position in the land.

Pessimists and naysayers will point to Liverpool's results and dub them flat-track bullies. Well, that is a moniker this penman would greedily grab on behalf of the Redmen, but a pair of wins against the Mancunians and the London-based blues would underline, in a definitive way, the progress that has been made by the club and the validity of their position at the summit of the table.

Two men who've been central to Liverpool's return to the famous perch they once monopolised are Brendan Rodgers and Luis Suarez. Manager and star man have been at the top of their game as the Reds have kept pace with the wealthier likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea. Rodgers has been the focus of almost as much scrutiny and criticism as his Uruguayan striker and much of this has been rash and ill-informed. Worse still, a goodly amount of the most bile-laden censure has come from those who stand beneath the banner of the Liverbird.

My efforts as a scribe here at TLO Towers began with an attempt to fairly assess the first few months of Rodgers' first season. It is fitting that the calendar year ends with a similar effort. It is notable that one or two of the more notable broadsheet journalists, previously sniffy and sneering in their readiness to ridicule the earnest Northern Irishman, have lately changed their tune. Heaven forbid they might miss the train of populist opinion.

The reality, as all reasonably informed Liverpool watchers will know, is that Brendan Rodgers has always been an impressive character. Loquacious, innovative, confident without being arrogant and personable in his dealings with the media, the Antrim man was exactly what Liverpool needed at that point in their evolution and whilst still far from the finished article, he is evolving too. Over the course of eighteen months he has become more judicious, more correctly guarded around the media and frankly, more effective in his work.

You will travel far and wide before you will encounter anyone more in thrall to the legend of Kenny Dalglish, than me. The only man I've ever called a hero, Dalglish has been the most important figure in Liverpool's history since Bill Shankly. His return was like a second chance at childhood glee but it was ill-starred. So be it. The sad truth is that Rodgers has suffered the disapproval of many Liverpool supporters simply for not being Dalglish. That is tragically myopic. Time moves on and Brendan Rodgers is moving Liverpool along with it.

Rodgers has been admirably dignified throughout his managerial tenure and mightily impressive in his adaptation to the pressures of such an onerous position. He has remained ebullient and positive from the first moment and whilst his relentless good cheer has been occasionally grating for the more sepulchral souls amongst us, he has not wavered. His attitude, to use a Brendanism, is outstanding. The manager continues to focus on the future and the potential within his squad for greater things. Indeed, with the recent contract renewal of Luis Suarez, he is confident that more and more of the finest players will be eager to join his Anfield renaissance. After the latest tour de force performance from his number seven, Rodgers was justifiably effusive in his praise.

"Good players want to play with good players," he insisted to the official website. "When you've got a world-class player like Suarez, and we've got a number of other young players improving, our selling point is the team and the philosophy. Our success here will be based around the team and how we work. Certainly when you've got players of that esteem - Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, that ilk - top players would like to play with those players.

"Suarez is always at a very high level and, again, was magnificent. He leads from the front, works, presses and is very clever in how he presses the ball. When we've got the ball, his creativity and invention is first-class. Two great goals again, good finishes. And he was very unselfish to pass to Raheem. A wonderful talent and yet again he showed why he is a world-class player."

Clearly, a brace of deflating defeats might bring the doubters and begrudgers scurrying out from beneath their cover to spit vitriol once more, but only the most benighted souls can fail to see the progress that has happened on Brendan Rodgers' watch. With the manager's positivity and vision allied to the irresistible brilliance of Luis Suarez, Liverpool fans can allow themselves a little excitement. Stoicism be damned. Mine's a double.

Happy Christmas to all who celebrate and here's to a 2014 that sees success for Liverpool Football Club.

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