A PAINFUL reminder of how perspective has shifted for Liverpool will be mercilessly administered at Stamford Bridge this weekend.
For much of the past decade, a meeting with Chelsea has been regarded as a heavyweight encounter with plenty riding on it.
Sunday, however, will merely give home supporters a chance to emphasise the chasm that has opened between the two clubs over the past three years.
It is incredible to think it was only in 2009 the teams were battling out their fourth major Champions League knockout tie in as many years, the remarkable 4-4 draw that while not enough for Liverpool to progress at least demonstrated their ability to compete with the very best.
Circumstances since both on and off the pitch have dictated the same no longer applies.
And while Chelsea are serious contenders for this season’s Premier League title while looking to defend their Champions League crown, Brendan Rodgers continues to take his first uneasy steps as Liverpool manager.
That European Cup triumph will no doubt be given a mention or two by Chelsea fans and their infamous stadium announcer, the Londoners’ previous failure to win the trophy long undermining Roman Abramovich’s moneybags project and a constant source of humour for Liverpool supporters.
Then there is Liverpool’s frustrating FA Cup final defeat at the hands of their bitter capital rivals in May, the final act of Kenny Dalglish’s second coming.
Liverpool fans will have to grin and bear it, along with the likely sighting of former hero Fernando Torres lining up in opposition boasting medals that weren’t forthcoming during his goal-laden Anfield sojourn.
Despite the current disparity between the team’s respective ambitions, the fixture contains a different resonance for Rodgers.
The backdrop may be entirely different, but last Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Newcastle United means the Northern Irishman has taken fewer points from his first 10 Premier League games in charge than the much-maligned Roy Hodgson accrued two years earlier.
Of course, the football on show is a vast improvement and, with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom breaking through the ranks, there is greater hope for the future.
But the bare facts speak for themselves. Rodgers, like Hodgson, is attempting to guide Liverpool out of a Europa League group while, like Hodgson, having seen his team tumble out of the League Cup on their own turf.
And, by a quirk of fate, the pair face Chelsea in their 11th league game, although Hodgson’s men were at home for their 2-0 win over the Londoners in November 2010.
Liverpool’s spluttering domestic form and a wafer-thin squad compelled Rodgers to in effect “sacrifice” the Europa League group tie in Moscow against Anzhi Makhachkala this weekend, leaving behind all bar Andre Wisdom of his likely Sunday starters.
“We want to get into a position where we can compete on all fronts but because of the delicacy of the group we have to be careful,” says the Liverpool manager.
“Our priority is the league. And unfortunately if I have to then sacrifice other competitions and manage that the best I can because we aren’t maybe in a strong enough state as a squad, then that’s what I’ll have to do.
“There’ll be other outcomes in terms of whether some of the younger lads are ready. But ultimately it’s something you’d love to be competitive in.
“That’s just the shape we are in at the moment. Hopefully in the years to come we’ll have the squad that can compete on all fronts.”
Rodgers – who spent four years on the coaching staff at Chelsea, first as head youth coach and then reserve team manager, before leaving in December 2008 – believes the team will emerge stronger from the testing experience of the opening months of his tenure.
“The situation is more out of necessity than design,” he says. “Of course, I’d sooner have more senior players to pick from.
“Over the next few years, we’ll really grow and build from these first six months and be more competitive.
“I have great comfort in knowing that we are as good as any team in the nature of our football.
“One of the big defining things of these first six months has been the character of the team. Once we drop one or two in on top of that and grow the squad, we’ll have a real strong ethos and mentality.
“Obviously at the minute you have to manage it the best you possibly can and that’s something I will look to do.”
Among the players showing the required character and mental strength is Jordan Henderson.
The midfielder, a £16million arrival from Sunderland 18 months ago, was almost shipped off to Fulham on transfer deadline day in August, but has since impressed Rodgers with his willingness to make the grade at Anfield, despite being largely restricted to cup appearances.
And Henderson, who scored in Liverpool’s 4-1 home win over Chelsea in May, has been urged to use Lucas Leiva as an inspiration.
“Jordan is a young player who had a lot when he was young and has then come to a massive club,” says Rodgers.
“Lucas is a prime example of how it can take a young player time to settle in a big club.
“Jordan played a lot of games last year, but it’s a different way of working now.
“But the biggest thing for me is that he has a tremendous attitude, and if you have that and an ability to reflect and learn then I will always enjoy working with players like that.”
Rodgers added: “The beauty of Jordan is that he can improve.
“Jordan has a great attitude to the game which is going to help his learning. He has wonderful physical attributes and I think he can get goals.
“We will play with three midfield players, and I certainly think he can play as one of those.
“His appetite for the game is very good. He wants to learn. This period for him is about tactically adapting to the way I am working.
“It’s a high pressure game without the ball which he can do, and it’s also a quick-thinking game which he is working on all the time.”