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Rodgers "Very Proud"

Despite our niggling annoyance and justifiable irritation at no longer sitting atop the Premier League, Brendan Rodgers, as is his wont, has words of encouragement to lift our spirits.

Zaf had perfected his telepathy with Brendan: "Put Victor on. It could work..."
Zaf had perfected his telepathy with Brendan: "Put Victor on. It could work..."
Jan Kruger

As I awoke this morning an old familiar heavy-heartedness lay like a weighty blanket upon me. The day could be begun, of course, but there would be an element of endurance to it, a modicum of stoicism needed in order that the mundane did not become intolerable. Like a man who had gone to sleep with an unresolved argument tearing at his heart, I was uneasy and restive, sporting a forced grin for the benefit of others.

For all last night's upbeat talk of hopeful signs and despite personally driving pragmatic discussions about how Liverpool still have their fate in their own hands, I began today, as I suspect many of you did, with a clawing regret and a sense of injustice. We should be top of the league. What if we can't get back there? What if it all falls away?

Sometimes I honestly begin to doubt my own memories. I mean, there was a time in my youth when Liverpool's position at the top was a given. I smile ruefully now at the easy confidence I used to have in that fact. Nevertheless, despite a few serious flirtations with title contention, the reality is that twenty four years of not being champions has left many scars on the beleaguered souls of those of us who follow the Redmen. We are a skittish fan base; loyal but emotionally volatile. This is eminently understandable. It's not been an easy vocation.

There is, however, a discernible change in how fans are reacting to set-backs under the stewardship of Brendan Rodgers. Last night was the least distressing post-defeat autopsy Twitter has witnessed for quite some time. People were eager to see the good, to acknowledge the progress and to find evidence of that which mitigated the disaster. It was predominantly, well, optimistic.

Fear not, gentle reader, the world has not changed utterly. There was still plenty of reassuring knee-jerkery and baseless vitriol. There will always be a goodly smattering of crazy amongst the fevered commentariat, but the tone of the majority of the lamentation and griping was largely tempered by a pride in the performance and an awareness that the result was an unfair reflection of what had transpired on the pitch.

Simply put, Liverpool did not deserve to lose that match and largely outplayed their talented and moneyed hosts. Led with passion and élan by an ever-motile Luis Suarez, the Redmen looked as though fighting it out for top spot was what they should be doing. That their performance warranted a win, never mind a point, is testimony to just how far the club has progressed under the current manager.

Glen Johnson played, again, like a Sunday league player doing a poor Glen Johnson impression. His pace, urgency, delicacy of touch and sang froid in the attacking third were absent once more. Martin Skrtel, though always a willing competitor, is a red card waiting to happen and too easily bested aerially and the lamentable duo of Victor Moses and Iago Aspas were a cruel reminder of how much squad development still needs to occur. Yet, despite these clear negatives, there was far more in the way of positivity to be gleaned from the performance in the Etihad stadium.

Rodgers, unsurprisingly, thought his team were "absolutely outstanding." The manager insisted that he was "very proud" of his players and he was keen to highlight what they'd done well, whilst stressing the quality of the opposition.

"They really took the game to a team that is a top, top side full of top European players," the manager argued. "We're disappointed not to have won the game, never mind losing the game. We showed great confidence and belief, scored a wonderful goal and could have had a few more. We've things to learn from the goals we conceded, which were disappointing.

"I am very proud of the team. I was here at the Bayern Munich game when Bayern were outstanding, but apart from that every other team Manchester City have played here - really good sides as well - they've scored a hatful of goals against. Everybody walking away from the stadium would feel we at least deserved a point from tonight - and we're disappointed we haven't won."

The managers reflections were not mindlessly upbeat. He was careful to point out the failings that have dogged the team all season but he seemed fiercely proud of what his players had done. This is a young, driven and ambitious coach and he is clearly gratified by the way in which his vision for the playing style of Liverpool Football Club is becoming manifest.

"We're disappointed with the corner [that led to] the second goal - we've got to manage the game a little bit better," he averred. "Our enthusiasm and attitude is to score goals, but when you've got three or four minutes until half-time, it's important you manage the game and we didn't quite do that at that period, so we're disappointed with that goal. But I thought we were excellent in our attitude. Some of the quality of our movement and passing was exceptional, and for me it was great to see because it's what we try to work on out on the training field. We've lost the game, but we take a great deal of encouragement from it."

Title talk was not indulged in but Rodgers was bullish enough about his teams abilities to suggest that a permanent residence in the top four is the clear goal of the club. Those who dislike such utterances should look away now but your scribbler, formerly of that school, now embraces such ambition. This group of players, led by the truly remarkable Suarez are both worthy and capable of Champions League football. Pretending they are not, in some attempt at caution or false modesty, seems redundant in the face of what we saw at the Etihad and at White Hart Lane.

"I think people will go away and look at us as a team that's hopefully going to be up there challenging," the Northern Irishman insisted. "Our main objective is to set up camp in the top four. That's what this club has been striving for, for a number of years. But we've shown consistently over this year that we're hopefully going to be in with a right good chance of doing that this season. I think performances like tonight and at Tottenham show that we have the quality to do that. We didn't get the points, but we'll recover well now and get onto the next game."

Like most of you, I would be beside myself with glee at the possibility of Liverpool having "set up camp in the top four" and for the first time in a very long time the concept of enjoying that idea of that does not feel injudicious or recklessly optimistic. With feet always planted firmly, we walk on. Jose Mourinho's Chelsea await. We can beat them. This is fun.

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