Wednesday, November 25

Brendan Rogers’ Anfield Past Brings Ignition Power to Last Meeting | Barney Ronay | Football

‘IIt was incredible. It was sheer destruction of the power of football. ”It’s a calendar oddity that Leicester’s trip to Anfield on Sunday night breaks an 11-month period since these two Premier League teams last met. Ordinary months Take a look at the highlights of the King Power Stadium, on Boxing Day 2019, and it will start to look like something else, one last dance before the end of time.

Liverpool had been enthroned as champion of the Club World Cup. Five days after beating Flamengo 1-0 in Doha, they retired in a boisterously postprandial King Power and produced the defining performance of their title season: a ruthless and fast-paced 4-0 evisceration of opponents who, up to that point, they had been pushing them on top of the table.

In the new Liverpool movie End of the storm this is the moment that makes Jürgen Klopp foggy. It still seems like some kind of pinnacle, a highlight of Klopp-era Liverpool, with every part of work in sync. By the time Trent Alexander-Arnold stepped forward to score the fourth goal, there was a sense that something more than just a sports competition was taking place: a power play, an exhibition.

A festive crowd cooed and chirped. Liverpool players lingered to applaud the visiting final. Even local fans seemed to come away with an admiring shrug at such controlled destruction.

Brendan Rodgers goes to hug Kasper Schmeichel after the win against Wolves that brought Leicester to the top

Brendan Rodgers is going to hug Kasper Schmeichel after the win against the Wolves that brought Leicester to the top. Photograph: Ian Hodgson / NMC Pool

Five days later, the Chinese government acknowledged the spread of a new flu-like illness in the city of Wuhan. Within three months, the season, the world of work, and indeed life for the foreseeable future had been decisively disrupted. Leicester versus Liverpool: never more innocence. Or at least not yet.

Liverpool had reached a flash point, the springboard for a 10-game winning streak that devastated the rest of the field. For Leicester, this was a moment of reverse traction. 14 points clear of Manchester United on Boxing Day, they finished four points behind and held onto a European spot.

The rebound this season (top of the table, six wins in a row) has been equally remarkable, if not exactly a surprise given the dynamism of this team and its coach. This is Liverpool’s other notable feature against Leicester: the man in the blue corner.

Leicester’s progress with Brendan Rodgers in the last 18 months is confirmation of something that perhaps needed to be reiterated in the Premier League. Rodgers is still a genuinely upper-class and relatively young coach at 47. He is also a curious figure in Liverpool’s modern history.

Here’s that weird thing, a trophy-less, “mutually spoiled” manager of the job, who can still claim some degree of authorship in the success that followed. Rodgers is not in a realistic sense the father, grandfather or even the uncle of Klopp’s supremacy. But maybe he’s a loving second cousin.

Rodgers at Liverpool – It’s still hard to get a clear picture of this, an era that seems to escape easy qualification. One reason is the entropy of the last few months, a deadly ending culminating in a deterioration of internal relations with the nadir of a gruesome 6-1 loss at Stoke in May 2015.

A flag showing Brendan Rodgers is fluttered in the Kop during Liverpool's loss to Chelsea on April 27, 2014

A flag showing Brendan Rodgers flies in the Kop during Liverpool’s fateful loss to Chelsea on April 27, 2014. Photo: Tom Jenkins / The Observer

This is how Rodgers fell apart in Liverpool. Some get nasty, others get angry. Rodgers seemed to delve deeper into himself, lose himself in his own personality. But looking back, and despite all the scorn online, the shame-worthy TV documentary snippets, there was a coherence in his actions, in his relationship with the club since then and with what he left behind.

Notably, the defining squad of his time at Liverpool disappeared fairly quickly. Jordan Henderson is the only title-chasing regular of that crop who is still in the front row six years later, and Rodgers was initially skeptical of him, trying at one point to move the future captain from Liverpool to Fulham.

But the Rodgers era also coincided with a return to basic good ranching. For a time, the most obvious sign was the sheer volume of players leaving the club, including Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen, Alberto Aquilani, Charlie Adam, Joe Cole, Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing.

Rodgers perfected a way of playing, a sense of urgency, a brilliance, so important to the club that what is happening matters and must meet certain basic standards of modernity and competence.

Plus, he produced a team that lived up to those ideals during his most memorable season. There are those who will always credit Luis Suarez with the title challenge, just as some will see only the most theatrical elements of Rogers’ personality, Shankly-lite’s style, David Brent’s air of conviction.

This is to oversimplify – Rodgers saw what was there and enabled it, hooking his team on that rare attacking talent. And what a moment it was. Around the same time that Klopp made it 4-0 in Leicester, Rodgers’ Liverpool started a streak of 18 wins in 22 games with 74 goals scored that almost made them immortal.

The margins were brutally good. Henderson’s red card in the final moments of Manchester City’s defeat on April 13 left Liverpool with Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen in midfield for the key game against Chelsea. Maybe bad luck. But Liverpool also blinked a bit.

Rodgers has spoken about how he could have approached that game differently, how eager his team was to pursue victory against a deep double-bolt defense. At 41, this was his first time in that place, as a coach or player.

Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool manager with Jürgen Klopp before Borussia Dortmund's friendly at Anfield in August 2014

Brendan Rodgers with Jürgen Klopp before Borussia Dortmund’s friendly at Anfield in August 2014. Photo: John Powell / Getty Images

This is also key to Rodgers’ story, his own unusual path from the outside in, one that somehow mirrors Klopp’s. Rodgers was, if anything, more meteoric. It took him four years to go from a start at Watford to his inauguration at Anfield by Tom Werner, his face fresh and a little dazzled by the lights.

What would have followed if Rodgers’ Liverpool had won the league title two years later? Would we have now had Klopp’s Liverpool? The club still spent lavishly in the next transfer window, although much of that binge fueled by Suarez went to Mario Balotelli, Lazar Markovic, Rickie Lambert and Alberto Moreno.

Meanwhile, the inner workings stalled. Relations broke down. James Milner, Joe Gomez and Roberto Firmino showed up just in time to see Rogers leave. But the structures he left behind were solid enough, the exit music warm rather than destructively bitter (the outgoing manager even rented his house to Klopp for a time).

Rodgers deserves his footnote on Liverpool’s success. Perhaps he even deserved, in a strange way, to be painfully present at the pre-pandemic coronation last December.

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For now, a Leicester team that has been a revelation (yes, another revelation) this season will be desperate to reverse that humiliation in a hugely depleted two-team encounter. Çaglar Soyuncu and Daniel Amartey are definitely out for Sunday. Ricardo Pereira and Timothy Castagne are still just possibilities. Liverpool have also been more devastated during the international break.

Scratch squads, a crowded match roster, and two teams on a winning streak – 11 months later promises to be another meaningful reunion.

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