Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is feeling the heat and Evans looks to crank up the pressure

By Ian Herbert

The transitory nature of football was most dramatically evident at Melwood where, 272 days after the 3-0 Old Trafford victory which defined the esprit de corps of Brendan Rodgers' fearless young Liverpool team, the Ulsterman found himself answering suggestions that he might be relieved of his duties.

"I think the message for me is clear. I don't think there would be anyone better to do the job here," he said yesterday, the kind of observation which may have sounded braggardly, had he come out with it after his players overwhelmed Manchester United and left David Moyes looking extremely diminished by questioning the way he had suggested Liverpool were favourites.

How Liverpool have fallen. This weekend's game is "The Dog and Duck against The Red Lion" to quote Gary Neville's definition of the match-up - which is contested by the two scrappiest sides the fixture has known in years. You need to go right back to 1980-81 to find a season when both sides finished way adrift - Liverpool fifth and United eighth with the 0-0 Old Trafford stalemate on Boxing Day encapsulating the season when Bob Paisley's team's 17 draws denied them all hope of a third successive title.

At that time, Paisley had a joke clock on his Anfield office wall which went backwards, though Liverpool were hardly in the kind of reverse gear we have seen from them in the past four months. They lifted the European Cup and League Cup in 1981, by way of compensation.

The old ghosts which have stalked many a Liverpool manager since Paisley amid the club's frustrating drive to make it back to the top were out in force this week - Mark Lawrenson and Phil Thompson just two of what Roy Hodgson once described as a "Greek chorus" during his own, unhappy Anfield tenure. Rodgers, who is expected to have Adam Lallana starting and Mario Balotelli on the bench, was sanguine about the barbs, though you could tell how he felt about them.

People criticising and calling for a new manager "comes with the territory", he said. "When you don't win games, football is very short-term. The same people maybe six or seven months ago, I couldn't do anything wrong. That is the way football works. You have to accept that as a manager and fight even harder to bring success and something that in this period has ensured I will do for sure."

He characterises Liverpool post-Luis Suarez as a club starting out all over again and thus - though he did not make the connection - in the same place as Louis Van Gaal at Old Trafford.

He said yesterday that his side had scored and conceded pretty much the same goals as in his first four months in charge in the autumn of 2012. "It is similar to that period when we were back in transition trying to find a way of working," Rodgers said.

It was a pretty slim attempt at self-justification.

The whole world could see that Liverpool's defence was vulnerable as they swept so many aside last season but they have not purchased the reinforcements who have proved immediately capable of changing that.

The return of Kolo Toure - surplus to requirement at Manchester City years ago - is seen as salvation this weekend.

United's defence, which has also been blasted, is boosted by Jonny Evans' return.

The Northern Ireland centre-back suffered a fractured foot back in September during United's 5-3 defeat to Leicester and had been out of first team action until Monday's clash with Southampton.

"I obviously didn't start the game but I came on after 15 minutes, so it was good to get a run out and it was a tough game as well," Evans said.

"It was very fast paced and I certainly felt that in the first 10 minutes.

"I had a few reserves games leading up to it, just building up slowly and the manager wanted me to do that.

"I think he wants everyone to make sure that there is no chance of breaking down again. It was nice to get back involved. I didn't get the 90 minutes but it was still quite a challenge for me physically."

The timing of Rodgers' encounter with Van Gaal is significant in a number of ways. Liverpool courted Van Gaal in the summer of 2012.

He visited the home of the club's then managing director Ian Ayre, though their hopes he would become their director of football evaporated - in part because Rodgers wanted autonomy to run his own team, and partly because Van Gaal wanted to be the manager.

"Yeah, but it is better not to speak about Liverpool now and about that matter. You have to speak about now and the present," Van Gaal said when asked about Liverpool's approach to him yesterday.

It worked out for the best, from his perspective, as the money at his disposal has been vastly greater than Liverpool's.

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