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13 April 2014

Rodgers draws parallels with Liverpool of old

Every season there is one moment. One game, or one goal, when everything falls into place. Federico Macheda curling one in against Aston Villa in 2009. Marc Overmars sprinting through the Manchester United defence in 1998. Steve Bruce’s header in 1993. Chelsea’s players throwing their shirts into the away end at Ewood Park after going 11 points clear in February 2005. And now, at Anfield, there is the opportunity to add another one to the list.

Judgment day poster

Brendan Rodgers was a first-year apprentice at Reading the last time Liverpool were collecting these kind of memories. The 9-0 against Crystal Palace. The goals from John Barnes that secured a first win at Old Trafford in eight years and a late equaliser at Arsenal. Ronny Rosenthal’s dramatic late introduction as a 2-1 deficit against Southampton turned into a 3-2 win. Then, finally, that raucous afternoon when Liverpool beat QPR and the players had to wait on the Anfield pitch for confirmation that Aston Villa, in second place, had been held to a 3-3 draw against Norwich City.

“Merseyside is at peace again,” read the report in the Times on 30 April 1990. “After the shame and remorse of Heysel and the personal grief of Hillsborough, there was real joy to behold for the first time in five years.” Kenny Dalglish’s final appearance as a player came three days later and Anfield basked in its own glory, maybe thinking it was always going to be this way. Nobody inside the ground that day could have imagined that Liverpool’s 18th title would be their last almost a quarter of a century on. “It’s a long time ago now,” Rodgers reflected. “I was 16 years young.”

A lot has happened to that skinny teenager in the following 24 years and on Friday he could be found at Liverpool’s training ground, holding court in a side-room where the walls carry an old quote from Diego Maradona. “I’ve made Liverpool my English team,” it says. “They have shown that football is the most beautiful sport of all.”

They cherish that quote in this part of Merseyside and it made a good backdrop to everything Rodgers said about what he wanted from his team, the importance of winning with style and, overall, the general sense that there was not even a flicker of trepidation about playing Manchester City, first versus third, red versus blue, with both teams grappling for control of the Premier League.

Anfield, he said, was not a place that worried about anyone these days. “It’s a different place,” he said. “I’ve sensed it. Even the roar is different.

“I sense a real nostalgia, a real feel of the old Liverpool. I use the word nostalgia because, for me, growing up as a kid, watching on TV, hearing the noise, seeing the bloom of Anfield … there’s a touch of that again now.”

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