Every June, the release of the next season's schedule is met with excitement and trepidation amongst football. Inevitably, some quirk of chance will fuel the existing narrative and lead to a summer of speculation as the world waits for the season to begin again. Last year, Liverpool's season began with a clash against Southampton, the team they'd plundered for three of their key players over the course of the summer. And this year it's happened again. On Sunday, Liverpool head to the Britannia -- not the most welcome of stadiums on the best day -- to kick off their season against Stoke City. For Liverpool, it's like returning to the scene of a heinous crime. The last time they were there, the final game of last season, saw them get obliterated by the Potters 6-1. It was goals for all, with each of the six (!) scored by different players, including former Liverpool men Peter Crouch and, more painfully, Charlie Adam.
The scoreline is one that most Liverpool fans still can't believe really happened. By the end of such a disappointing season, many had already mentally checked out of the season -- along with, it appeared, most of the actual Liverpool players -- but even so, it was still humiliating to watch.
One person who didn't have the luxury of changing the channel, ordering another pint, or hiding under the covers was manager Brendan Rodgers, who spoke about that experience in the build up to Sunday's rematch.
"It was very difficult to sit through," Rodgers said, in a stunning display of understatement. "The identity of what you stand for, in terms of organisation and commitment and fight – forget quality, forget talent as that is irrelevant – you have got to be able to fight and you have to be hard to beat. You have to do the basics well. All those elements of football, we failed in. From a coaching perspective, it was very difficult. It was a surreal experience, if I am honest.
"That was my worst day in football by a long way. I don’t think any of my teams have ever conceded that number of goals. It was the lack of fight and the character on the day. Listen, there were great lessons learned from that from a collective and a personal perspective. I take total responsibility for it."
While Rodgers survived his season review with FSG's Mike Gordon and Tom Werner just days after that disaster of a game, much of his backroom staff were casualties of Liverpool's under performing season. Colin Pascoe and Mike Marsh made way for Sean O’Driscoll, Pep Lijnders and Gary McAllister in early June.
Regarding the turnover, Rodgers admitted, "There was a moral decision and a professional decision to be made (over the backroom staff) and it was difficult, probably the most difficult decision I have ever had to make as a manager, but I felt I had to do it.
"I’ve explained the reasons why – technically I wanted to take the team in a different direction. That was no detriment to the two guys who left, both guys who had supported me fantastically well and were with me when we came within a game of winning the league. They are fantastic professionals and their careers will go on elsewhere. It was just something I felt I needed to do."
While this statement seems to contradict his earlier assertion that he took full responsibility for the Stoke debacle -- and indeed the direction of the season generally -- anyone could see that some kind of change needed to be made. Whether this shake up will translate well on the pitch is a discussion for after tomorrow's game, and either by coincidence or FA design -- if you're a conspiracy theorist -- it's against the same team that showed Liverpool their most painful defeat in a season full of them.
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