Liverpool chunking it up and finally stand comparison with Red Devils
More signings, more points and better fixtures give Rodgers crew the edge for now
Daniel Sturridge celebrates with his team-mates and manager Brendan Rodgers after scoring what proved to be the winner in their last Premier League match, against old rivals Manchester United at Anfield. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Brendan Rodgers’ use of language attracts curiosity and, quite often, criticism, so there will be those ready to sniff when it is recalled how Rodgers addressed the end of Swansea City’s 2010-11 season.
A Wembley play-off was emerging on Swansea’s horizon and Rodgers reflected on a season that had taken the club to third in the Championship, the highs and the lows, and said: “We chunk it”.
A manager turning a noun into a verb does not draw praise the way he would for successfully transforming a winger into a full back.
Yet in America – and Liverpool’s owners reside in Massachusetts – it seems chunking is an everyday verb, regular, if you like. So there will be delight in Boston that they can say Rodgers and Liverpool have started the season chunking well.
Due to World Cup qualifiers, the Premier League season has three bite-sized chunks before winter sets in. The first has gone. It consisted of three league games, and Liverpool won each of them 1-0. Nine points and no goals conceded is a chunky way for any team to start.
Next up, beginning back at Rodgers’ former club Swansea on Monday night, are four more league games – Swansea (a), Southampton (h), Sunderland (a) and Crystal Palace (h).
A lot on Merseyside and beyond will have the same reaction when assessing potential points from that fixture list. Luis Suarez’s league return will be at Sunderland.
Swansea should, in theory, prove to be the hardest game of that quartet, and if Liverpool are as confident as one would expect after three victories, then a fourth on Monday night must be seen as a realistic aim, not a work of the imagination.
Even a draw on Monday would maintain a form of momentum to take into the next three games. Once this chunk is over, in early October, there is then a third leading to the World Cup play-offs in mid-November. In this, Liverpool have Newcastle United (a), West Brom (h), Arsenal (a) and Fulham (h).
Once again, this list will encourage Anfield Reds. If some are conservative in their estimates – and the fact this is Liverpool’s best start for 19 years should in itself act as a brake on runaway expectations – then Liverpool might get 18 points from the next 24.
That would give them 27 points after 11 matches. And that is Champions League qualification form.
The ifs are many, of course, but there is also some substance behind an optimistic reading.
Rodgers will doubtless stick to a one-game-at-a-time mantra but the man from Carnlough can at least derive early satisfaction from this season, simply because it is not last season.
Then Rodgers, in his first weeks as Liverpool manager – following a club legend, Kenny Dalglish – saw his new team lose three and draw two of their first five league games.
By mid-September last season, Liverpool were third-bottom of the Premier League. Anxiety about Rodgers’ suitability to manage a club of such stature, there the day he was appointed, grew steadily.
Even when Liverpool began to recover there was still scepticism about Rodgers and about the owners, Fenway. Remember how Rodgers had tried to recruit Clint Dempsey from Fulham on the final day of the transfer window last August?
When, this summer, Reds targets such as Willian moved to Chelsea and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Borussia Dortmund, there was some sense of déjà vu. Christian Eriksen, someone Liverpool and everybody else wanted, went to Tottenham, as Dempsey had.
But had there not been three 1-0 victories, the last at home to Manchester United, Rodgers would have entered the final day of the transfer window under local scrutiny.
Then, early that day, Liverpool announced they had signed Mamadou Sakho from Paris St Germain for €20 million, Thiago Ilori from Sporting Lisbon for €8.3 million and Victor Moses on loan from Chelsea.
Sakho and Ilori will need time to prove their effectiveness in English football but there is ambition in their arrival. Moses is 22 and has around 100 Premier League games at Wigan and Chelsea behind him. It looks a cute signing, a la Sturridge, especially compared with the €14.3 million United paid Crystal Palace for Wilfried Zaha.
A comparison is valid, not just because Moses and Zaha are wingers whose first club was Palace, but simply because Liverpool and United will always be compared.
And for now, for the first time in a while, Liverpool are coming off favourably. They have more points and more signings and the fixture list has been kind. But another comes at Swansea on Monday. United have already won there, 4-1, so Liverpool will be judged.
But another Reds win and it can be said that Liverpool have hit the ground chunking.