x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Liverpool youngsters justify Brendan Rodgers' trust

The Liverpool manager was rewarded with impressive displays from his upstarts as they twice led the champions, reports Richard Jolly.

Carlos Tevez, centre, is surrounded by Joe Allen, who had such an impressive game in midfield, and Sebastian Coates, right, who started ahead of the experienced Jamie Carragher at the heart of Liverpool's defence. Paul Ellis / AFP
Carlos Tevez, centre, is surrounded by Joe Allen, who had such an impressive game in midfield, and Sebastian Coates, right, who started ahead of the experienced Jamie Carragher at the heart of Liverpool's defence. Paul Ellis / AFP

Liverpool 2 Manchester City 2

The applause for the first rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone of the league campaign was heartfelt. Stood a couple of yards from the hallowed turf, a 39-year-old man joined in. This is Anfield and Brendan Rodgers has been conscious to respect the history and traditions of a storied club.

As he pointed out when unveiled, he is not the first Northern Irishman to manage Liverpool. John McKenna, the pioneer, was appointed 120 years before Rodgers.

And yet if Kenny Dalglish was trying to take his beloved club back to the past, Rodgers is interested in a very different sort of time travel. He is looking into the future.

He is trying to do so in a dignified, diplomatic manner but Rodgers is a quiet revolutionary. A glance at the first team sheet he submitted for a Premier League game at Anfield confirmed as much.

Where the personification of continuity, Jamie Carragher, was expected to be found, instead there was the name of the young Uruguayan Sebastian Coates. Rather than the experienced Stewart Downing, the left-wing spot went to Raheem Sterling, a decade the England international's junior.

It was his full league debut and it came against the champions. No pressure there, then. Yet the boldness of Rodgers brought its reward. Sterling shone, rising to the occasion and, in what felt a worthy exchange, he left Anfield with Carlos Tevez's shirt draped around his shoulders.

"For a 17 year old playing against the champions, I thought his performance was fantastic," Rodgers said.

It is one sign of new era. Another came in the shape of Manchester City's second equaliser. Martin Skrtel had already scored with a thumping header when, seeking to protect Liverpool's lead, he aimed a pass back to goalkeeper Pepe Reina.

Tevez anticipated, intercepted and struck but Rodgers defended the defender who tried to implement his passing principles.

"I commend the courage," he said. "The easy thing is to smash it up the pitch."

The player who personifies the manager's vision was an older acquaintance. Joe Allen was Rodgers's midfield metronome at Swansea City, forever keeping the ball, and he has reprised that role at Anfield, even with a change of position. When Lucas Leiva limped off in the fifth minute, the Welshman had to anchor the midfield. It was a task he set about with understated assurance.

"He is 5ft 6 ins but in terms of a footballer, he is 7ft 6 ins," Rodgers said. "He is absolutely immense. The Liverpool supporters will love watching this kid."

Their current darling is, of course, Luis Suarez, who enhanced his reputation with a glorious free kick and provided reminders of his footballing failings with some rather more wayward finishes.

In very different ways, both Liverpool goals were terrifically taken and, well as they moved the ball, owed little to the philosophy of Rodgers. The first came when Skrtel met Steven Gerrard's corner with a bullet header.

Yet they conceded twice to individual errors. Reina was the first culprit, missing a Tevez cross and, after the ball bounced back off Martin Kelly, seeing Yaya Toure score. Then Skrtel blundered, allowing the Argentine to score his 100th goal in English football. "Carlos is in good form," Roberto Mancini said.

Perhaps it was the thought of the irrepressible Tevez's industry that prompted another bold move by Rodgers. Enter Coates, one of only two of the recruits in Dalglish's spending spree to start, as the deputy for the banned Daniel Agger.

The pecking order at the back has changed, to the detriment of the warhorse standing second on Liverpool's list of all-time appearance makers. There is an essential sadness about Carragher's descent down. He has slipped to fourth-choice centre-back. There have been 702 games for Liverpool, but there are unlikely to be many more.

Instead, it was about the players who constitute the future, the players with a handful of games who, should youthful potential be realised and Liverpool's grand plans succeed, could define the Rodgers years. Players like Allen and Sterling, who, in their very different ways, treasure the ball. That, now, is the Liverpool Way.

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