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Rodgers Pleased With "Best" Victory

Yesterday, after two disappointing and possibly undeserved defeats, Liverpool eased back into the Champions League places with a comprehensive if unspectacular win over Hull at Anfield. The significance of the victory was not lost on the manager.

Luis was incensed. That grass would regret it's insolence...
Luis was incensed. That grass would regret it's insolence...
Julian Finney

So endeth, with the notable exception of the FA Cup match on Saturday, the chaotic festive period of fixtures. Having roundly thumped Norwich, West Ham and, most significantly, Tottenham in the lead up, most rational Reds would have taken six points from the available twelve on offer over an eleven day stretch. Wins at home to Cardiff and Hull were duly attained and narrow unfortunate defeats away to the league's two strongest squads should offer more hope than desolation.

A victory at the Etihad or Stamford Bridge would have left Liverpool still sitting very close to the top and with the label of title contenders weighing heavily on them. Do not mistake me, dear reader, such an elysian reality is devoutly to be wished, eventually, but to have emerged from this most feverish and wearing of times firmly ensconced in the top four is very pleasing, and perhaps the better base from which to launch the second half of the campaign. A solid and convincing win on the first day of 2014 means Liverpool are on track for their goal of Champions League football, ab initio.

Last year's transfer window saw the arrival of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, both of whom have had a massive impact. Were this January to witness the addition of even one player of a similar class, this already solid squad would stand an excellent chance of rubbing shoulders with Europe's elite in the campaign to come. There is a pleasing concinnity about Brendan Rodgers' group, and there is little doubt that when he has enough of the players he wants available, Liverpool are playing a very attractive and efficient brand of football. The manager must take a great deal of credit for this. Lampooned and pilloried unnecessarily by people who should know better, the Northern Irishman has emerged as a dignified and resolute figure, a man with a plan.

One can understand why Rodgers would have been licking his disconcertingly dessicated lips after yesterday's win. It was exactly the kind of ruthless, cold and efficient display that a team with lofty aspirations must aspire to. Were Liverpool to finish out the season dispensing rhadamanthine lessons in systematic victory, we would all be very happy folk indeed. It wasn't just the clean sheet or the merciless nature of the victory, but the miserliness of a defence which has been too generous of late. Hull, tenth in the Premier League and 3-1 victors over Liverpool last time out, were not allowed a solitary strike to trouble Simon Mignolet.

"I said to the players afterwards that I thought that was our best win of the season," the manager averred. "In a lot of games we've been vibrant with great energy, scored goals and performed well, as well as won. But on the back of the games that we've had over this period - and to play with a lot of the same players against a team that won their last Barclays Premier League game 6-0 - we knew we were going to have to tough it out today and dig in. We might not have always been at our best, but we got two great goals, had other opportunities and actually restricted Hull to no shots on target. I'm very, very pleased with today because it was a great victory for us."

Two very important things also happened during the course of yesterday's Anfield outing which will have a bearing on the season to come. The first of these was the return to fitness and action of club captain, Steven Gerrard. A player of unquestioned class, Gerrard has been less than stellar in the central midfield role this campaign and yet his presence has been missed from the team. If Rodgers can find a way to convince the England captain that he would best serve the team in an advanced role, thereby allowing Joe Allen to continue his development and Jordan Henderson to emerge as a real team leader in the centre, then Liverpool will surely reap the benefits.

The second point of note was the fact that Luis Suarez imposed himself on the game. Yet again. From the moment he returned to the side it has been apparent that in Suarez, Liverpool have a player to rank with the very finest in the world. This in itself is thrilling, but the unbridled joy one feels at watching the player in full flight is remarkably invigorating stuff. Yesterday, and in quite a few recent games, Suarez has been the victim of some of the worst kind of cynical tackling. These challenges have taken their toll on the pugnacious Uruguayan's body but still, he will not relent. Rodgers revealed that his number seven was playing with an injury that would have ruled out ninety percent of players.

"Today was very much about the team," the manager insisted. "Luis will, of course, always get the plaudits because he's a world-class player. Nine out of 10 players would not have played today. He had a real bad knock on the top of his foot from the Chelsea game. I know, having managed and worked with players, that most players wouldn't have played with what he had today. He had strapping on it and he put himself out there for the team yet again. That's why he gets the goals that he does, because he's so determined. But it was very much a team effort today. It was a great header from Daniel Agger from the corner and that set us off."

With Daniel Sturridge nearing fitness and Philippe Coutinho an ever present in the first team, the ghosts of January past are likely to have a huge bearing on the way the season finishes. The manager has praised the "incredible" strength of the "little guy" from Brazil and opined that his performances will be complete once he manages to "learn how to put the ball in the net." Sturridge's return will likely coincide with an increase in Coutinho's impact, as the England striker's runs are the kind the diminutive play-maker loves to pick out with clever through passes.

So, as a new year dawns, Liverpool can feel comparatively proud of their efforts in the last twelve months and a fan base that has schooled itself in wary pessimism can perhaps allow a modicum of hopeful anticipation to gladden their hearts.

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