Rodgers' Liverpool must start season with a bang
Tough trip to Stoke hardly what Liverpool boss would have wanted in a make-or-break season
REPORTING FROM LIVERPOOL
Liverpool's road to redemption begins where it ended.
Sunday's visit to Stoke City will mean far more than merely exorcising the demons of last season's humiliating finale at the Britannia Stadium.
At the time, Brendan Rodgers knew that was the nadir of his three-year tenure at the helm of the club, and it left him on borrowed time.
What goodwill existed from the previous season's exciting English Premier League title race with Manchester City was snuffed out, and the 25-point gulf to champions Chelsea hardly helped.
One win from their final six games, and that against a condemned Queens Park Rangers, told the story of Liverpool's campaign last time out; poor tactics, poor signings and little sign of tangible progress.
It has become a recurring theme across the club's managerial regimes in recent times.
History continues to weigh heavily on Rodgers. The humiliation at the Britannia was Liverpool's heaviest defeat for 52 years, and the disastrous campaign also saw him preside over the club's worst start to a season since 1964.
False starts are not an option this season.
He may have been afforded the time to prove his worth at Anfield by owners Fenway Sports Group, but the 42-year-old does not now enjoy the unanimous support of the Americans.
It was telling when Steven Gerrard was asked out on the field, following an indignant final appearance at Anfield, whether Liverpool's future was in good hands, prompting laughs of derision from The Kop. It was as damning as the outgoing captain's answer was diplomatic.
Gerrard's departure and that of Raheem Sterling have further eroded a front line that amassed 74 of the 101 goals scored in the banner season of 2013/14.
Daniel Sturridge's prolonged spells on the sidelines have elevated the importance of that diluted strike force.
Rodgers' attempt to arrest the decline prompted the arrival of Christian Benteke, Liverpool's former tormentor-turned-target-man.
The sceptre of Andy Carroll continues to hang over the £32.5 million ($70.1m) deal for the bustling Belgian, faced with the burden of delivering short-term success as well as the weight of expectation in taking on iconic No. 9 shirt.
His new manager considers comparisons with the West Ham striker redundant and with good reason - Benteke's three seasons with Aston Villa yielded a prolific 42 goals in 88 games in the Premier League
"For me, I think he'll prove to be a bargain for the club. I really do," said Rodgers.
"I've read and seen things about his game but in the short period of time he's been in, I've been even more impressed. I've seen him up close now for three years, stood at the side of the field and watching this guy - not just his power and strength but also his footballing ability.
"One of the goals I remember he scored against us at Anfield, he ran half-way through the field. This isn't someone who lacks pace, movement and intelligence.
"He's not just a guy who you chuck the ball up to. Of course, his strength allows you to keep the ball, but he'll really help the unpredictable part of our game this season."
The return of Divock Origi, signed last summer, and Danny Ings' capture will further ensure that Liverpool will not again be left limping through the campaign by Sturridge's injury setbacks.
Recruitment has been equally promising elsewhere, with Roberto Firmino's signing proving a coup that should cushion Sterling's acrimonious defection to the Etihad Stadium.
The Brazilian playmaker has the potential to enjoy a similar level of success to compatriot Philippe Coutinho while also somewhat filling the void left by Luis Suarez's switch exit.
James Milner, similarly, offers a wealth of experience of which Rodgers' young side had been devoid of in the wake of Gerrard's loss to Major League Soccer. The addition of Nathaniel Clyne from Southampton should remedy the 11-year predicament that has surrounded Liverpool's right-back position.
Fate, however, has conspired against Rodgers with Liverpool facing big guns like Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City before the end of November.
Europa League commitments threaten to cause further disruption and condemn the man once considered the visionary to lead the Reds into English football's promised land as yet another false prophet.
What the pundits predict
1. Chelsea, 2. Arsenal, 3. Man City, 4. Man Utd
"I think (Chelsea) will buy another striker. We saw against Arsenal in the Community Shield that they might have a problem up front when Diego Costa is unavailable. Jose Mourinho hopes Radamel Falcao is the answer but I did not see that at Wembley.
I think Chelsea still need another powerful striker as back-up to Costa."
1. Chelsea, 2. Arsenal, 3. Man City, 4. Man Utd.
"The title race will be a lot tighter and I am expecting the top four to be bunched together for most of the season. But Chelsea are still the team to beat because of their experience and I also think they will be better than last year when Diego Costa was injured a lot and Cesc Fabregas did not play his best football from February onwards."
1. Arsenal, 2. Chelsea, 3. Man Utd, 4. Man City
"There are a lot of unknowns (at Liverpool), but firstly the players they brought in last year have obviously got to do better.
"I like the signings they have made this year and I think they have got a chance but, as of now, you have got to say that the other four teams are ahead of them.