The normal post-season review for Brendan Rodgers after his third season in charge at Liverpool took on added significance after a spectacularly awful finish to the 2014-2015 campaign. Having worked their way back into the top four picture with a strong midseason run of form, Rodgers' side completely collapsed, winning just twice in the final two months and ending the season--and Steven Gerrard's Liverpool career--with a farcical 6-1 loss at the Britannia Stadium.
After it looked as though he'd saved his job with the 13-match unbeaten run from December to mid-March, Rodgers had nearly managed his way back out of it as he oversaw a stretch of limp displays that cost the club a spot in the top four and an FA Cup final. Rodgers had few answers for his side's alarming decline, and his only apparent answers were to revert to some of the same tactical choices that got them off to their worst start in recent memory.
In the end Rodgers was spared by FSG, who decided in their end of the season review that the Northern Irishman would get a chance to bounce back during a fourth year in charge. Chairman Tom Werner commented on the owners' choice to grant Rodgers another chance ahead of the season opener, noting that they saw enough long-term promise in Rodgers to keep him around despite the poor finish:
"First of all, we take a long-term view on these matters. We believed in Brendan when he won Manager of the Year for 2013/14. That was only a year earlier when he was awarded that compliment. I think our track record demonstrates that our approach and attitude is very much focused on stability. We have demonstrated that both on and off the pitch. We do believe Brendan is the right man for Liverpool and the right man to take the club forward. When we hired Brendan we wanted to see improvement. Hopefully when we have a conversation in a year's time he will have demonstrated and the squad will have demonstrated that we've regained top form again.
"I don't want to put too much pressure on any one game or the need to get off to a good start, but it would certainly help. It would be marvellous to take three points. Obviously, the end of last season was very disappointing. It would be nice if we came away from Stoke with a much better performance this time around. I feel that everyone knows what their responsibilities are. We have set good, but honest expectations. I'm looking forward to seeing how we play. I expect us to make our supporters proud."
There was little pride to be found the last time Liverpool were at the Britannia, as their shambolic first-half performance ensured that those on and off the pitch would end the day embarrassed. A win on Sunday wouldn't completely erase that embarrassment, nor would it wipe away any continued concerns about Rodgers' reign regardless of Werner's words above.
But it would get the season off to a nice start, and it would give the manager a small measure of vindication as he looks to take advantage of the trust he's been afforded.