Liverpool legend Ian Rush confident about Brendan Rodgers
If there was one man the footballing gods created for derby games, Ian Rush was the perfect specimen.
During his Liverpool career, the former Wales international, now 52, scored 25 goals in Merseyside derbies - more than any player from the Reds or Everton.
Rush was in fine form last Saturday when The New Paper sat down with him for an interview in a small, cosy room tucked away in the bowels of Anfield, less than two hours before the 223rd Merseyside Derby watched by a full house of 44,511.
Dressed sharply in a black suit and white shirt with an inevitable red necktie, the Reds' record scorer (346 goals) was in his element, sharing fond memories of his career and offering his take on what lies ahead for his beloved club.
1 What does the Merseyside Derby mean to you?
RUSH: It's incredible for the city of Liverpool and for me. I scored more goals in derbies than anyone. This brings back memories for me.
It's always great excitement on the day for the city of Liverpool.
It brings back so many happy memories. The most memorable goal has to be the one in the FA Cup final in 1986, and also the one in 1989.
The first goal I scored in 1989 was the one which beat the record for the number of Merseyside Derby goals, which was previously held by Dixie Dean.
2 What do you think is the reason for Liverpool's poor start this season? Is it because of the Champions League commitments?
It's a combination of many factors.
Maybe we over-achieved last season (by finishing second). We're just getting a feel of reality now.
We have a stronger squad than last season, but we have Champions League football.
For the players, it's a matter of getting the confidence. Then it'll be okay.
3 Is it also because of the second-season syndrome?
When you have a good season, the second season is always the hardest.
Expectations are high now. Everything fell into place for us last season. We didn't have many injuries.
Now the expectations are there. What we have to do is to maintain the expectations by finishing in the top four.
4 Do you see promising signs despite the difficult start?
You can see that this team are still a work in progress. There's a lot to be done.
It's about sorting out the defence. Brendan Rodgers is working on keeping it tight at the back.
Going forward, we always look capable of scoring.
But I think we are a lot better than we were two years ago.
We're still letting goals in, and that's the problem.
Last season, we were letting goals in, but we were scoring more.
This season, we are still letting goals in, but we are not scoring more, and that's the difference.
The team who will win the Premier League title this season will not be the one with the best attackers, but with the best defence.
That makes Chelsea the favourites to win the league.
5 Raheem Sterling has been linked to Real Madrid. You are probably the best man to comment on this because you moved abroad to Juventus at the peak of your career. What are your thoughts on the youngster?
Raheem's an incredible player and he's got lots to learn. The Real rumour just shows how well he's playing.
I'm 100 per cent sure he will stay at Liverpool next season because he loves it here and he's enjoying his football. That's why he's playing well.
All good players who play well get linked to Real or Barcelona, so it's a compliment for Sterling.
He's at a young age and he's improving all the time but, sometimes, there's a danger if you move abroad too early in your career.
Robbie Keane left early (to Inter Milan) and it didn't work out for him.
Sterling needs to get a few good seasons under his belt at Liverpool to get the confidence.
That's a lot more to come from him. He's still maturing as a player, physically and mentally but he's doing really well at the moment.
6 There's widespread belief that Liverpool were over-reliant on Luis Suarez last season. Are they now too dependent on Daniel Sturridge, as they have struggled for goals in his absence?
Results may show that way, but the onus is on whoever comes in for Sturridge to make it hard for him to get his place back.
You can see the outline of this team - it's just a matter of the new players and the rest of the team gelling together.
It takes time; it doesn't happen overnight. But Rodgers will make it happen.
7 You have watched Mario Balotelli in action for a few games now. Will he turn out to be a success like Suarez at Liverpool?
Balotelli is a special talent. Hopefully, Liverpool will make him a better player.
He's working very hard, that's the most important thing.
The main principle of a Liverpool player is that you work hard.
8 What are your expectations for Liverpool this season?
Winning the title is a tough task.
What we're looking at now is to finish in the top four. But I hope Liverpool can win a trophy this season.
If Liverpool can finish in the top four and win a trophy, this will be a great season for them.
Of course, we finished second last season, and everyone's expecting more, but we have to be patient.
But we are going the right way.
9 Are you worried that Liverpool are going the same way as Tottenham Hotspur, who struggled after bringing in many new players last season?
No, I don't see it that way. People draw the similarities, but there's more structure to Liverpool.
Rodgers has got the outline, you can see the outline on the pitch. It's a matter of putting everything into place.
At Spurs, there was no structure and that's the reason they finished sixth last season.
* This interview is brought to you by Carlsberg, one of the leading brewery groups in the world and the official beer of Barclays Premier League and an official partner of Liverpool FC.
'BALOTELLI WILL GET GOALS'
HEAVILY INVOLVED: Mario Balotelli (in red) puts Everton under pressure. PHOTO: REUTERS
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers praised Mario Balotelli's attitude during his first Merseyside Derby.
The Italian, who had a Liver bird sculpted into his hair for the occasion, has yet to score a Premier League goal for the Reds and could not take advantage of a number of decent opportunities.
Balotelli should have made it 2-0 moments after Steven Gerrard opened the scoring, but he hit the bar from close range and Everton went on to secure a 1-1 draw through Phil Jagielka's stunning late strike.
Balotelli has a reputation as a hot-head and was the target of a number of robust challenges, but he did not react and was heavily involved in the game.
Rodgers said: "He needs to focus on the game and I made that point beforehand. This is a game where emotions are high and it can be difficult.
"But you're going to be in with a greater chance to win as long as you've got 11 players on the field.
"And, overall in his time here, he's responded very, very well. His work-rate was excellent. His pressure, his physique at the top end of the field for us were very good and he looked like he could get a goal.
"I was disappointed he didn't score but, as long as he's working well and working hard, he will get goals."
There were a number of impressive Liverpool performers, with Alberto Moreno, Gerrard, Jordan Henderon and Raheem Sterling all standing out along with boyhood Everton fan Adam Lallana.
The midfielder was also making his Merseyside Derby debut and would have opened the scoring early on, but for a fine save from Tim Howard.
Lallana was a constant thorn in Everton's side, and Rodgers said: "I thought he was outstanding.
"To come into his first derby game and play with that quality and that intensity. And he played the whole game during the week against Middlesbrough, penalties and all, so to deliver that performance was great because it shows he's getting fitter and fitter with each game."
Rodgers may not have nice words for defender Mamadou Sakho though, after the France defender had to apologise to supporters for leaving Anfield before the Merseyside Derby.
A fan photographed the 24-year-old, who was not included in the match-day squad, leaving Liverpool's home ground before kick-off.
The former Paris Saint-Germain favourite Sakho used his Facebook page to make it clear he had not meant to cause any offence.
"I really want to apologise to the club, the supporters and every person who felt offended when I left the stadium this afternoon," he said on his Facebook page.
"I'm aware that it was a bad choice from my part to go isolating (by myself) to watch the game!" - Wire Services.