BRENDAN RODGERS had only been at Liverpool for a matter of days when he first began to suspect any hopes of a smooth transition into the Anfield hotseat would represent mere wishful thinking.
The release of the Premier League fixture list in June instantly handed the Northern Irishman the most testing of starts to his tenure.
Certainly, winning over the hearts and minds of the Kop would not be easy with a triumvirate of opening home games that saw the previous season’s top three - champions Manchester City, third-placed Arsenal and runners-up Manchester United - all visit Anfield before the end of September.
The outcome was almost inevitable, albeit somewhat harsh. City, despite Liverpool twice being ahead, were gifted a draw, while Arsenal were much too strong and United, aided by the sending-off of Jonjo Shelvey, came from behind to steal a scarcely-merited triumph.
It set the tone for a difficult few months for Rodgers, the shortcomings of his team ruthlessly exposed by the very rivals he has been charged by Fenway Sports Group to be rubbing shoulders with again in the near future.
Supporters, and Rodgers himself, accept that won’t be any time soon. But the perfect barometer of how far the Anfield outfit have progressed since will come during the next month when the reverse fixtures take place.
Liverpool travel to Arsenal at the end of the month in the middle of a week that begins with the FA Cup fourth round tie at Oldham Athletic and concludes with a trip to Eastlands.
First up, though, is Sunday’s short journey down the end of the East Lancs Road to take on bitter North West rivals and Premier League leaders United.
Rodgers’ men have shown signs of flickering into life lately. Having suffered a run of just one win in nine games during autumn, the confidence boost of their second-half performance in defeat at Tottenham Hotspur has provided the foundation for a run of seven wins in nine.
That the two defeats during that time, 3-1 losses at home to Aston Villa and at Stoke City, were so emphatic and lingering underline the issues the Anfield manager needs to still address.
But there is no doubt they are in much ruder health than when United visited on September 23, Steven Gerrard putting the 10-man hosts ahead before Rafael da Silva equalised and Robin van Persiesnatched a late winner.
Key to that revival has been Lucas Leiva - the Brazilian’s return coinciding with Liverpool taking only one point fewer in the last six weeks than the previous three-and-a-half months combined.
And skipper Gerrard has echoed the comments of Rodgers that the Anfield outfit can enjoy a prosperous second half to the season.
“We didn’t get off to the start we wanted this season but that was no surprise to me because there’d been a lot of change,” says Gerrard, who has benefited more than most from the return of Lucas.