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Numbers Game

As the maximum amount of games dwindles and the personnel available to Brendan Rodgers at Melwood on a daily basis increases, the maths are finally starting to work out for Liverpool.

(BR) "Okay, I need you to..." (DS) "'s cool....I've got this..."
(BR) "Okay, I need you to..." (DS) "'s cool....I've got this..."
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The problem with success of any kind is that it sets a bar and expectation levels rise accordingly. What was so recently exhilarating and spirit-shocking becomes, in the blink of an eye, the minimum acceptable level. This season's Liverpool have been a distressingly apposite exemplar of the veracity of that argument. As a direct result, the more emotionally volatile members of the LFC fanbase have struggled to adequately articulate the fervid rage consuming their addled minds, whilst even the most level-headed of fans have been sorely tested by the jarring difference between the side that tore the Premier League apart last campaign and the faltering, toothless team that donned the Liverbird for the opening months of 2014/2015.

There has long been a belief that Brendan Rodgers is at his best on the training pitch. The knack he has shown for getting footballers to perform to their peak potential and then execute his preferred systems of play on the field has provided irrefutable evidence of that. As this campaign loomed, with its heaving parcel of fixtures and eight new faces staring back at him at Melwood, even this most confident and optimistic of men must have quietly feared he might struggle. The extent of that struggle, however, was a surprise to even the most sepulchral naysayers, and we've got a lot of those beneath our banner.

The comparatively soft centre, which was as responsible as any unpropitious slip for missing out on last year's title, became positively gooey and comically inept as a Bermuda Triangle of Glen Johnson, Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel dragged the hapless Simon Mignolet into their vortex of incompetence. Ahead of them, the captain's weaknesses were more evident than his many glorious gifts and the attack, shorn of the Premier League's finest recent partnership, flailed impotently. It was, in short, a perfect storm of bad luck, bad timing and bad form.

How felicitous it is, then, to be able to now focus on a transformed set of circumstances. The restructured defence has developed a pleasing miserliness, the midfield is now driven by a high-functioning duo and the attack, which had already begun to fire, is bolstered by the return of the club's finest exponent of the goalscoring art. The weighty burden of fixtures has eased somewhat and, with an endpoint in sight in three competitions, one gets the sense that Brendan Rodgers is exactly where he wants to be right now, his embattled mojo, dented but freshly polished, on the mantle once more.

There had been some needlessly vitriolic and personalised abuse of the Antrim man as Liverpool lurched through the months from August to December. He was laughably accused of being everything from a charlatan to a heedless boulevardier but the truth has always been that Rodgers cares intensely. The fear, for some more measured critics, was that his selection-based stubbornness and comparative inexperience at the very top level were beginning to have a calamitous effect. There was some validity in those latter arguments and the dramatic slump in the team's fortunes has left many understandably wary about embracing the new positivity completely but the manager is typically insistent that the recent amelioration will not be fleeting.

"After the Chelsea game there was a feeling, 'would it disrupt or provoke a negative reaction to our season?' but if anything it's only promoted the development and momentum that we have," Rodgers insists. "Of course we wanted to get to the final but the performance level from the two games and leading into those games has given us great encouragement. Our best football is yet to come. We had a real difficult start to the season when other teams had full squads and playing really well. For us, we needed to find a way to get back to our identity again and we have got that and our best football is ahead of us. We want to take that into the games and get to cup finals.

"There's still good teams in it but that only counts if you get through yourself. The Bolton game is a tough one. You get through each game and it optimises your chance of getting to the final. I repeat, we are in two cup competitions and we want to go as far as we possibly can in them. That will be reflected in our teams, our drive and our desire to get through in the competition."

So, have the numbers really begun to turn in favour of Rodgers' men? The FA Cup tie against Bolton will be Liverpool's 37th game of the season, only six less than the European football-free campaign just gone. This kind of fixture congestion is the goal of all top teams and it was the Carnlough native's first experience of coping with the ideal. The call for patience in this circumstance is often angrily dismissed, but it has merit.

Even little things seem to be working in Liverpool's favour now. Bolton signed seven new players -- Ben Amos, Adam Le Fondre, Rochinha, Barry Bannan, Simeon Slavchev, Filip Twardzik and Saidy Janko -- but none of them are eligible to face the Reds tonight. Another seven are injured, including the goalkeeper, Adam Bogdan, who was so impressive in the first match. Maybe, although his pride or ego would never allow him to admit it, just maybe the manager needed the opportunity to mess up and maybe he is now showing, yet again, that he's capable of learning from his mistakes. Naturally, there is a reluctance on his part to dwell on the unhappy recent past and, Rodgers being Rodgers, an unfortunate tendency to over-justify previous decisions.

"We played 43 games last year and the idea [in the summer] was to top up our squad to cope with the extra games. There was a lot of development for those players in there. They have been brought in because we want to be challenging in the league and competitions for a number of years. For that you need to have a good squad. I know the players are excited and looking forward and are enjoying how they are playing and working at the moment, we want to keep that momentum going."

Liverpool fans are firmly on board the momentum bus, although many have had their opinion of the manager critically damaged by the events of the first half of the season. If indeed the tide has turned and some better fortune is finally about to be enjoyed at Anfield, perhaps this side may yet put a respectable sheen on some of the damning statistics that have built up to date. Truthfully, however, the only numbers that matter are the pursuit of a top four finish in the Premier League, an eighth FA Cup and a fourth Europa League trophy.

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