Eighteen months ago, Liverpool were getting ready to kick off a new season under fresh-faced manager Brendan Rodgers. The Northern Irish manager had just moved to the club after a wildly successful spell at Swansea, getting them promoted to the EPL for the first time and then exceeding all expectations by guiding the club to finish in 11th place. Hopes were high for the season to come, and an opener against West Brom was on the cards.
Then that match was actually played, and things didn't go so smoothly.
Rodgers and his club were thoroughly outplayed by the West Midlands club on the day, and a shambolic performance by the players on the pitch led to a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of former assistant coach Steve Clarke. That was the first sign of what would prove to be a long series of growing pains, and a reflective Rodgers spoke on that experience to the club's official site today ahead of another match against that same side:
"If I look back at my time here over the last 18 months, I look back at the first game we played against West Brom.
"It's ironic that we play them this weekend. Where we were at then, we had some talented players but we were very much an individual group."
It was definitely very early in the development of the way Rodgers wanted the club to play, but he says that he believes the club has grown significantly since that first setback:
"Over the course of 18 months, we've implemented a method to our play. We have become a team. We're understanding the game much better in terms of how we want to work and how we want to play. [...]
"I've been delighted with the players - their application and quality. As we saw the other night, it was an incredible performance in such a pressure game.
While many have criticized Rodgers' press statements in the past, it's hard to disagree with him here. Even when the club has struggled this year, they've played much, much better football than they were in his first few months in charge. You can tell that the players have bought in to how he wants to play, and there's been steady improvement in the overall quality of play as time has marched on.
There's certainly still things that Rodgers can improve in terms of tactics and decision making, but it's impossible to deny that he's made significant strides during his 18 months in charge. If he can keep on improving himself and his squad's level of play, the next couple of years could be very bright indeed.