Watching Liverpool this season has been a trial for all but the most beatifically serene of individuals. Of course, there have been exceedingly pleasant highs, like the resounding win over Tottenham and the not-so-resounding opening day victory over Southampton. However, if like your scribbler, you are an emotionally volatile sort, you will have oscillated wildly over the course of the Manchester City, Aston Villa and Ludogorets games between states of debilitating angst and frustrated rage. Judged solely on the basis of those four and a half hours, the author of these daily scrawls is a critically unstable individual.
Sporadic palpitations, perpetually clammy palms, intermittent but profoundly deep troughs of desolation and a constant stream of the type of heinous expletive-ridden language that would cause flowers to wilt and milk to curdle, have all been part of the match day experience, chez moi. There are certainly more pleasant and less draining ways of spending one's time, but let's be honest, we have no choice. Our love for this club has seen us experience the broadest of range of feelings imaginable and the truth is that, as Brendan Rodgers grapples with this complex phase in his Anfield overhaul, we can prepare ourselves for the kind of emotional turbulence that must always accompany dramatic change.
Make no mistake, the current stage of Liverpool's evolution under the Antrim man's tutelage is potentially very disquieting and will take time to manifest itself as the manager wishes. The necessary adjunct to that is that patience will be required on the part of Rodgers himself, his players and, pertinently, the supporters. Ah yes, patience -- the bane of the I-want-it-all-NOW generation, the ugliest word in modern football. Traditionally, Liverpool fans have been amongst the most thoughtful in the game but the traumas of the recent past, combined with the yearning need for a Premier League title, have created a certain edginesss that is all too palpable in the ground during games and becomes glaringly evident in the laughably overwrought online ranting by some of the less phlegmatic members of the so-called #LFCFamily.
Unpalatable as it may be, however, a modicum of restraint must be displayed in any criticism of this emergent side. Against Aston Villa six of the summer recruits started the match and a few days later, in the much-hyped return to the Champions League, there were five of the new boys in from the beginning. No matter what way you approach it, no matter how much one dwells on a philosophy of play or the primacy of the system, that is a huge upheaval for any team. To have attained the win against Ludogorets, whatever the circumstances, was more creditable than many thought. Rodgers, on-point as ever, is keen to remind fans of that.
"There’s no doubt it is a challenge and I think everyone connected with the game will understand that," Rodgers insisted to the Liverpool Echo. "We had to bring in a lot of new players this summer because of the demands of the Champions League and the other competitions. We’ve got players adapting to a different country as well as a new team. We’ve got three changes in our back five and on top of that it’s very inexperienced. The full-backs are 20 and 22, the two centre-backs 24 and 25. There’s not a lot of games in terms of big experience so it’s bound to take a bit of time. It’s something that will develop on the training field over the coming months.
"I’m pleased with how the players have settled and my experience tells me they will get better," he continued. "The key message is to stay calm. There is no magic formula. This is a group which will develop and improve. I see big potential in the players here. We’re still in the early stages of the season. We’ve played five games in all competitions and won three of them with lots of positive aspects in those games which sees me really enthused about the future. Over the course of the season we will get stronger and stronger."
The manager's words certainly provide a little much-needed perspective and, realistically, even another Premier League defeat or two over the coming months will not be too deleterious to the team's chances of retaining Champions League Football. If title ambitions are genuine, however, then results must remain consistently good. There is a belief that these players will click in the same way as last year's did, but the challenge will be the securing of three points on a regular basis whilst the new boys bed-in and the on-field dynamic between them is established. Rodgers sees parallels with the campaign just ended, and his observations are fair to a point, but whilst the wins at the season's start were narrow, they were, nonetheless, wins.
"I was talking to the staff about this the other night – we weren’t blowing teams away in September last year," he said. "We had three 1-0 victories and I was being asked questions about whether we would be able to score enough goals. We ended the season with 101 in the league. We weren’t playing in September how we played from February until May. Against Villa we were not at our usual level in the final third but that game came after a poor international break. We lost a number of players and that upset our rhythm and we had to change the structure. We have moved on from that, regrouped and got a great result in the Champions League.
"The team we played had beaten Lazio and PSV Eindhoven away. If we had beaten one of those two teams then winning 2-1 would have been deemed a very good result for us. But because not many people had heard of Ludogorets they expected us to win more comfortably. There aren’t too many easy games in the Champions League and we showed the character and mental qualities that successful teams have by coming through in the end. We’ll look to take those characteristics into the weekend game."
The message then, is clear. Curb your enthusiasm. Hold your horses. Don't count your chickens. Something about glasshouses and stones. Other assorted clichés which exhort you to be tranquil. Have faith. Calm down. All will be well. Brendan's got this. Yeah...not working for me either. If you need me, I'll be behind my couch roaring obscenities at Sam Allardyce. Have a nice weekend, folks.