Belfast Telegraph

Brendan Rodgers pleads for patience as pressure mounts ahead of Liverpool clash with Manchester United

By Tim Rich

Liverpool's last visit to Old Trafford ended, said Brendan Rodgers, in "the best defeat I've ever had".

What the Liverpool manager meant was that the 3-0 reverse at Manchester United sparked a resurgence that would see the team go unbeaten in the Premier League until the next time they faced United more than three months later.

During that time, playing a radical 3-4-3 formation, Liverpool seemed once more the side that should have won the championship in 2014.

"It was probably the best defeat I've ever had," said Rodgers before leading Liverpool back to Old Trafford.

"Of course, you never want to lose a game and especially not to a rival like Manchester United, but I saw enough that day to know we had got our identity back again."

Although they travel to Manchester unencumbered by the stories of dressing-room unrest that have dogged Louis van Gaal's squad, Rodgers can probably afford defeat even less than the United manager.

Liverpool's revival fizzled out in the last four weeks of the season and the new campaign has begun with some dogged performances at Stoke City and Arsenal and two games at Anfield that were underwhelming (Bournemouth) and embarrassing (the 3-0 defeat by West Ham).

"Bang average" is how Harry Redknapp described Liverpool's form and, needing to requalify for the Champions League to justify a net spend of more than £100m, Rodgers needs better than "bang average".

For a game that matters more than any other, he has been hamstrung by the suspension of Philippe Coutinho after his dismissal against West Ham, the continuing absence of Daniel Sturridge, a striker whose fitness he can never assume, and injury doubts over Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson.

The team he will set out at Old Trafford, with Christian Benteke as a target man, is likely to be more conservative and harder to break down than the ones he deployed in either of his two previous seasons.

It will be not nearly as exciting to watch.

"Last season we only really took off in December," said Rodgers.

"In the season when we nearly won the league we didn't play that brand of football until November or December.

"We need to give this group a bit of time.

"That is something ill-afforded in modern football.

"This team will show its worth over the course of the season not just in these early games."

Game No 4, the capitulation that gave West Ham their first win at Anfield since 1963, still casts its shadow.

It is not just the fact that Liverpool have lost games that has raised questions over Rodgers' future but the manner of those defeats and the identity of the opposition, such as the 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace and the 6-1 rout at Stoke that closed last season.

"It is very difficult to take in a performance like that because you wonder where it comes from," said the Carnlough man of the West Ham debacle.

"You can't be positive after the game and for a day or two you don't think the garden is rosy.

"But once you come away and analyse it, you get the solutions and that is what is important.

"I think it is going to be a strange league this year. Look at Chelsea's results and you'll know any team can beat you.

"There have been nine home wins in about 40 games.

"This will be a very, very difficult league, particularly at home."

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