Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool v Everton: So much at stake for Brendan Rodgers

By Steven Beacom

Brendan Rodgers turned 41 on Sunday... the same day that his mentor Jose Mourinho became 51.

The Carnlough native is the third youngest manager in the Premier League. Only the latest recruit to English football's top flight Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who recently joined the madness at Cardiff, and Roberto Martinez have fewer years under their belts. They are both 40.

Solskjaer is unproven at this level. Rodgers and Martinez, though, are almost considered old hands.

This season their reputations have been enhanced.

It's not just in England that they are considered the two brightest young bosses in the game...around European football's biggest clubs they are also being talked about in boardrooms.

They play the game in an open, enterprising style and their clubs are more entertaining to watch than for years.

Martinez has worked wonders at Everton. It was supposed to be a tough task taking over from David Moyes at Goodison Park, but he has made it look easy.

Rodgers continues to impress as Liverpool boss. Replacing Kenny Dalglish was akin to being the man who shot Bambi, but gradually he won Kopites over and now they appear right behind him.

Rodgers and Martinez will come head to head when Liverpool and Everton meet tonight at Anfield. It's a huge game for both.

Liverpool are in that prized fourth spot with 43 points, Everton in sixth with 42. In between Spurs are also on 43 but with an inferior goal difference to the Reds while Manchester United lie in seventh on 37.

From now until May those four will fight it out for the final Champions League place with Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, in that order, likely to finish above them.

Everton have been a real surprise package this season. I wouldn't say they have nothing to lose from here on in, but with many including some of their own supporters expecting them to fall away, they enter games with a certain degree of freedom.

There is no such luxury for Liverpool.

Rodgers has the Anfield outfit slightly ahead of schedule, given when he took over in the summer of 2012 he inherited so many inconsistent and ineffective players.

He has ditched the dross and made some shrewd signings leading Liverpool to a better place, though he will tell you himself they still have a considerable distance to go.

Still, he has guided them to a new level where they are labelled championship contenders, let alone a side capable of making the top four.

Having reached that status, it would be a huge disappointment for the manager, the American owners and the fans if Liverpool slipped away when it really counts and a Champions League place was not secured.

Brendan would not be in danger of losing his job – nor should he be – but the pressure on him to deliver next season would be intense and he'd have to do it without star performer Luis Suarez, who will surely leave Liverpool if they aren't playing in the best club competition around.

For Rodgers tonight is the biggest game of his Liverpool managerial career to date.

It is a chance to put distance between Red and Blue and with Spurs facing rampaging Manchester City tomorrow, Liverpool could open up a significant gap in the fascinating race for fourth.

The Merseyside derby will be a defining game of the season for Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers.

Belfast Telegraph

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