With the first Merseyside derby of the season upon us, we spoke to Noel over at The Liverpool Offside and he shared his thoughts on a few topics ahead of the big game on Sunday.
TLO - I don't think anybody was especially happy to see Dalglish go, but with the club on relegation form through the entirety of the second half of 2011-12 and following the unmitigated disaster that was the 2010 summer transfer window, in retrospect it's hard to see any way around it. The form Liverpool ended last season on, then, is a far better comparison point, and in the early going this season it has been clear that in many ways the players are still trying to work past the malaise—particularly in front of goal—that the club has suffered through since 2012 began.
Beyond that, though, it's clear that under Rodgers the club now has a footballing philosophy it's trying to work towards, however stumblingly at times. Under Kenny Dalglish that simply, sadly, wasn't the case, at least not last season when it all seemed a hodgepodge of approaches and misfitted personnel.
TLO - The owners—or the managing director who works on their behalf—let Rodgers down over the summer. There's simply no way around that rather uncomfortable point. He was promised their full backing; he was promised that if he offloaded enough salary and found a temporary home for Andy Carroll he would be given the funds to being in a replacement in attack. Then Ian Ayre and the rest of the club's money men packed it in and headed home from Melwood an hour before the transfer window closed having failed to bring in the required new signing.
Since then, anyone with a pair of braincells to rub together has known there would be an injury crisis at some point. It was just a question of when, really. In any case, for most there had been an assumption that the league was Rodgers' only real priority, but then Thursday night's Europa League tie against Anzhi Makhachkala changed all that when he played a side with only two names changed from last weekend's victory over Reading the the league. Where he goes from here is hard to know, but no matter what it's a safe bet that there will be tired legs and a lot of chances for the club's youth players.
TLO - The football, in general, has been good. Where it's all gone wrong is in the final third. Unfortunately, when it comes to finishing there's a feeling that no matter how well Rodgers' gets the team playing football, after struggling in front of goal for as long as they have that that's always going to be the Achilles heel for this particular group unless some combination of shooting practice, psychotherapy, and ritual sacrifice can be found to cleanse them of their demons.
TLO - It feels as though with how Raheem Sterling's been built up in the press so far this season there's nowhere he can possibly go but down, which is really rather depressing given he's still only 17 years old. Still, if Rodgers can manage his minutes properly and keep him grounded there's always hope he could at least mostly live up to the hype. As for Shelvey and Coates, both are fully capable of being amongst the Premier League's best at centre half and attacking midfield for the next ten years, though Jordan Henderson appears bizarrely out of favour despite appearing to be perfectly suited to Rodgers' football philosophy and his future at Liverpool would have to be considered in doubt.
If one were betting on which kids will be holding down starting roles in the years to come, rather than Henderson the nod would have to go to Suso and Andre Wisdom, both of whom will be favourites to start in the derby. Digging deeper into the reserves I have a great deal of hope for Krisztian Adorjan but fear that as an attacking midfielder it's just too crowded for him to break through at Liverpool, and Ryan McLaughlin has the talent to be the best right back in the league in ten years.
RBM - We really cannot avoid talking about this - 'Being: Liverpool'. If the colon was supposed to be for dramatic effect, did it succeed? What has the response been to the show among the fans? There have been some good viewership numbers reported in the US, which has always been ravenous for any form of reality television. Do you see the show becoming a perennial feature, like Corrie or EastEnders?
RBM - Finally, how do you see the derby panning out on Sunday? One assumes Steven Gerrard will play even if he is on crutches, especially after last season's hattrick. How about a score prediction?
TLO - Everton will either continue their atrocious derby form or their solid season form. Marouane Fellaini will do something outside the laws of the game that will go unpunished. Luis Suarez will be legitimately fouled four times before getting frustrated and tumbling over an especially thick patch of air. Leighton Baines' hair will continue to appear as though it was born in the wrong decade. Steven Gerrard will look better than he has at any point this season bar perhaps against Manchester United. And the score will be something to something, where something can also be nothing.