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One Game at a Time

It's an age-old mantra at Liverpool Football Club and reflects a cautious, humble and sensibly circumspect attitude to what may be possible, but Brendan Rodgers and his men are very publicly taking each game as it comes.

Brendan had tried, but Colin just couldn't see his point. What was wrong with shorts in January?
Brendan had tried, but Colin just couldn't see his point. What was wrong with shorts in January?
Ian Walton

In the good old days, when phones weren't mobile and mobiles weren't phones but instead dangly thingies which hung over infants' heads, managers and footballers lead the media in a merry dance of mind-numbing clichés. Every match was a game of two halves, tall strikers had good touch for a big man, left feet were cultured and it was wise to put in a few crunching tackles early doors in order to set your stall out. In that era of comfortably predictable soundbites, everyone at Liverpool Football Club attributed their unprecedented success to taking one game at a time. It was a stunningly simple philosophy that fit the club's feet-on-the-ground approach to winning things.

In more recent times, with the expansion of the media and the ever-present need for fresh quotes, the tendency has been for managers to eschew that careful old outlook, as wily reporters have become adept at drawing out their subjects and encouraging them to make bold predictions of the future. Even at Liverpool, Gérard Houllier infamously told us that his charges were just "ten games from greatness" in 2002 and only lately, as he started his tenure in a blaze of naive optimism, Brendan Rodgers made a rod for his own back with talk of Champions League football as the wheels were coming off all around him.

The Rodgers of 2014 is a far different creature to the one who stumbled starry eyed through the latter half of 2012, struggling to adapt to the gargantuan responsibility he had assumed. His travails have chastened him, however, and his loquaciousness, whilst still in evidence, is no longer a source of embarrassment to himself or the fans. Many, all too eager to misread his enthusiasm and brand him a charlatan, rushed to judgement, but the Carnlough man, to his eternal credit, learned and adapted quickly. No more brash predictions or statements about where Liverpool should be. These days, despite the wonderful form of his team, the focus remains on the next fixture only. This is as it should be. Boring is good.

If anything, Rodgers 2.0 is more given to wisely playing down expectations than he is to inflating them. With his team, only four points off the summit with eleven games remaining, playing tremendously effervescent football and topping the scoring charts, it would take a particularly sepulchral outlook to be anything other than inwardly ebullient and yet, no matter what passions burn within him, the manager is very consciously remaining outwardly calm and non-committal about what is possible.

His rationale for this cool appraisal is that his group are en route to positioning themselves a year ahead of of his schedule. They are, he suggests, overachieving, and whilst their current placing is creditable, it would be unwise to prognosticate what their final spot in the Premier League might be. This is a man who has evolved and now understands the club and what is expected of its commander in chief. Humility. Positivity. Passion.

"When I spoke to the owners when I decided to come to Liverpool I certainly wanted to be challenging for the Champions League places by my third year at the club," he told Talksport. "I knew there was a big job to be done at Liverpool and a lot of work to be done. But I haven’t been surprised by the players because I’ve seen how much they put into their game and I know the quality we have.

"I think we’ve probably moved ahead of where I thought we would be this season. Some of our play has been exceptional. We’ve playing with great confidence and great belief, but there are still areas of the team that I feel we need to improve on. It’s been a wonderful season to be in our position with 11 games to go but there’s still a lot of work to do."

Brendan Rodgers has learned to take pressure off himself, as surely as that pressure and expectation increases. Fans all over the globe are playing chicken with a truck named 'Hope.' Formerly dour pessimists are beginning to dream. There is no way the manager can be oblivious to the desperate hunger of the city itself for that long overdue success.

The fact that victory is possible at this point of the season is a gratifying development but so many of us have dared to imagine, to picture a world in which Liverpool are champions again. The manager is having none of that. Sensibly, reassuringly, he places the focus back on our opponents and zeroes-in on the next fixture -- away to Southampton. In fact, in an almost comical turn of events, he defends himself against accusations of negativity!

"At times I've been deemed to have played down out our hopes but it's an authentic look at where we're at," insisted the Northern Irishman. "There are other teams above us who are favourites to win it and are probably more equipped than us to win the league -- they’ve been in that position before. I'm only looking at the next game against Southampton. All we can do is just continue to do our best. We’re in a really good position at the moment but there’s still an awful lot of work to do before we can think about winning anything."

No matter how the season pans out from here, Brendan Rodgers' tenure thus far has seen the club and the man himself develop into legitimate title challengers, playing the most attractive and potent attacking football in the league. The fact that there is always a faint whiff of anxiety as that same team defends has added some unwanted drama to many of Liverpool's fixtures, but damn it, it's exciting. Right now, the biggest challenge for the fans is to follow their manager's example and take one game at a time, Liverpool style.

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