Rodgers feels there is a squad better equipped to deal with unique Stoke City challenge
It was the game that neatly encapsulated Liverpool’s main concerns last season.
The goalless visit of Stoke City last October saw Brendan Rodgers’ side flatter to deceive, lacking the guile to break down stubborn, organised opposition.
Then there was Luis Suarez’s embarrassing attempt to win a penalty with a dive that met with groans from even the home supporters.
From trouble in front of goal to trouble with the main goalscorer, it highlighted issues that would bookend a testing first campaign for Rodgers.
Now Stoke are again the visitors as the phoney war of pre-season makes way for the start of the real battle of the latest Premier League campaign.
Of course, there’s no Suarez this time.
There’s also no Tony Pulis in the opposing dugout, with Mark Hughes having replaced the long-serving manager at the Britannia Stadium during the summer.
And for Rodgers, there is a squad better equipped to deal with the unique challenge of the Potters.
“The aim over pre-season was to ensure we had enough change within the team,” says the Liverpool manager.
“There may be certain games in certain venues where we need to adapt and change.
“We did that last year a number of times but we never really had the depth to do it on a regular basis. This year that will allow me to do that a bit more, look at each game and pick a team accordingly to get the result.
“Especially at home, last year we drew too many games that we wanted to win and should have won. Hopefully that introduction of more players into the group will give us that chance.
“With us as a group, we’re flexible tactically. We’ll make subtle changes to our structure.”
Liverpool going into the new season of the back of an impressive warm-up programme, with last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Celtic in Dublin the only one of seven friendlies they failed to win.
But Rodgers warns: “You can never be overconfident, there’s always a worry sometimes if the pre-season is too good; you win all your games and make no mistakes.
“The most important phase is the competition phase. What we’ve done is been able to build some really good foundations for us and continue on from where we left off last season. That momentum has been maintained.”
The Celtic game witnessed the return to action of Daniel Sturridge after the striker was sidelined since suffering an ankle injury while on international duty with England in May.
Sturridge then netted twice in a behind-closed-doors friendly on Tuesday, leaving Rodgers a selection poser of whether to throw the 23-year-old back into the fray or hand a full debut to summer signing Iago Aspas up front.
And Rodgers has backed Sturridge to become one of the Premier League’s top marksmen this season having netted 11 goals in 16 appearances since joining Liverpool for £12million from Chelsea in January.
“With Daniel he was very unfortunate that he got his injury at the end of last season, but what he has shown over the course of the off-season is his determination to be just that (a leading Premier League striker),” adds the Anfield manager.
“He’s worked tirelessly with the medical group. As a team, they’ve got him back. He’s not 100% fit yet, but for me Daniel Sturridge is a player that even if he’s 70 or 80% fit, he’ll be right up there as one of the top strikers.
“He needs numbers this year because that’s important for him. He needs to score goals and create goals – if he does that, while working hard, I think England will have one of the top strikers in the Premier League.”
Rodgers, though, has urged Sturridge’s team-mates to help shoulder the goalscoring burden.
“There’s not just pressure on Daniel to score goals – it’s throughout the team,” he says.
“You can’t just have the focus on one man.
“Of course, that’s the job as a striker, you’re paid to score and create goals. It’s as simple as that, just like it is for defenders who have got to stop them.
“He’s a really outstanding talent and has all the tools to be a leading marksman at this level. We’re hoping with a full season here with us, he can go and really showcase the qualities that everyone knows he has.”
Meanwhile, Martin Skrtel is determined to capitalise on Liverpool’s competition for places in defence by regaining his starting role.
With Daniel Agger now installed as the club’s new vice-captain, both Skrtel and new signing Kolo Toure are expected to fight to partner the Dane.
And Skrtel is confident he can improve on the indifferent form that saw him fall down Rodgers’ pecking order in the second half of last season.
“I think it’s always good when there is competition for places and it’s very important for your performance,” says the Slovakia international.
“The manager will decide who is in the best form and start that player. I’ll do my best and all I can to make sure that I’m the one he’s going to be starting with.
“Kolo is a great player. He’s a very experienced player and he has been playing in the Premier League for a while.
“Of course I will try to improve this season because I missed the second part of last season. I tried to do my best in the pre-season and show the manager I am able to play, so we’ll see how it goes this season.”