IF Brendan Rodgers has brought one thing to Liverpool as manager, it’s a renewed faith in the value of the club’s youngsters.
But as the Anfield outfit approach the business end of the season, the Northern Irishman has discovered the merit of a contrary adage.
Namely, you can’t put a price on experience.
Having lambasted Liverpool’s fledgling talents in the wake of the humiliating FA Cup exit to Oldham Athletic less than a fortnight ago, Rodgers has turned to the more senior generation of his squad to help conjure a response.
It worked. Liverpool followed their hard-earned 2-2 draw at Arsenal last Wednesday with a similar scoreline at champions Manchester City on Sunday.
Rodgers later sought to soften the post-Oldham criticism – preferring instead to point the finger at himself – but the message was already blaring out loud and clear.
After fielding just four players over the age of 23 at Boundary Park, the Liverpool manager selected the club’s oldest starting line-up – average age 28 years and 18 days – since October 2011 for the trip to Eastlands.
Steven Gerrard’s increased goal output – his stunning strike at Eastlands was his fifth in 10 games – and the impressive return of Jamie Carragher to the heart of defence has underlined why there is no substitute for the knowhow of such seasoned professionals.
It extends to other areas, although the root of improved form from Stewart Downing, Jose Enrique and Jordan Henderson comes mainly from a desire to safeguard their Liverpool futures.
“We have enough physicality in the team but we need a few more players who are experienced,” admitted Rodgers recently.
“The biggest thing is experience. If you looked at Manchester United’s bench (when Liverpool played at Old Trafford last month) and then you looked at ours, then that is the gap in our squad.
“We have to improve on that, I think we will do that but it will take a few more windows and then we will be ready to compete, for sure.”
There’s no doubt Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom have all emerged as first-team regulars this season.
However, Sterling hasn’t started a Premier League game since being substituted during the 2-1 defeat at Manchester United last month. Wisdom was benched following the return of Jose Enrique, while Suso hasn’t even made a league bench since January 2.
Jonjo Shelvey, another youngster to have been involved heavily during the first half of the season, has started only the FA Cup third round tie at Mansfield Town since underwhelming in the 3-1 Boxing Day defeat at Stoke City. And he said earlier this week: “I played against Stoke and obviously I didn’t have too great a game.I had a few personal issues that were going on in my life.
“I didn’t think I was the only one that had a bad game that day but I was the one that suffered, if you know what I mean.
“You just have to take it on the chin and work hard in training and try to get myself back in the team which I’m trying to do.”
Shelvey responded by scoring for England under-21s in their 4-0 friendly romp over Sweden on Tuesday having been guilty of an embarrassing miss just moments earlier.
A combination of Fenway Sports Group driving down costs and chopping the expensive dead wood from the squad, along with Rodgers’ faith in youth, has prompted Liverpool to have the youngest squad in the Premier League this season with an average age of 25.6 years.
It puts them just ahead of Newcastle United (25.7) and Aston Villa (also 25.7), with the struggles of the duo this season – and in particular the latter – underlying how a lack of experience can cause problems.
Rodgers and FSG, though, continued to buy for the future during the January window, with the £12million arrival of 23-year-old Daniel Sturridge followed by last week’s £8.6m purchase of 20- year-old Philippe Coutinho from Inter Milan.
The Brazil midfielder could make his Liverpool bow in Monday’s Premier League visit of West Bromwich Albion.
And compatriot Lucas Leiva has taken it upon himself to throw a fatherly arm around the new boy as he settles into life in England.
“He’s a great talent – a young player but with a lot of experience – and I’m really looking forward to playing with him and helping him to settle quickly in England,” says Lucas.
“He doesn’t speak much English, so I will try to be his dad for a few months and hopefully he will be okay.
“I will just try to make him feel comfortable, the same way I did for Luis (Suarez) and Sebastian Coates.
“I’ve been here for a long time and it’s just what I feel I need to do and what I feel I have to do. Hopefully he will feel comfortable.
“First he needs to speak English and then he will learn the Scouse accent!”
Monday’s match represents the ideal opportunity for Liverpool to demonstrate their progress under Rodgers since the start of the season.
The Anfield outfit opened their Premier League campaign with a dismal 3-0 defeat at the Hawthorns that set the tone for a difficult first few months for the Northern Irishman.
However, a run of just one defeat in six has moved Liverpool within six points of the European qualification places, although the confidence of recent draws at Arsenal and City is tempered by the fact the visitors were ahead in both games.
“I thought we were the better team from the first minute at City and controlled the game,” says Lucas. “We created more chances than them and at the end we conceded a silly goal which cost us two points. We just need to improve on that and make sure we win these type of games.
“I think both games (against Arsenal and City) were mixed emotions for us. We were winning both games and we have to analyse that.
“We played well in both games and maybe in a few parts of both of them we lost a little bit of the momentum. We need to improve on that and build for the next game.
“We need to get a good run going again and see what’s going to happen.
“We know the gap is big but we need to keep believing and finish as high as we can.”
Liverpool’s last five home Premier League games against West Bromwich Albion
Apr 2012 Liverpool 0 West Brom 1
The Baggies recorded their first win at Anfield since 1967 as Roy Hodgson enjoyed a memorable return to Anfield. Jordan Henderson striking the underside of the bar and Dirk Kuyt the inside of the post but Glen Johnson's error let in Peter Odemwingie for the winner.
Aug 2010 Liverpool 1 West Brom 0
A first goal of the season for Fernando Torres gave Hodgson’s side an unconvincing win over the Baggies. Former Liverpool goalkeeper Scott Carson denied Torres a second before the visitors had James Morrison sent off for a tackle on the Spanish striker.
Nov 2008 Liverpool 3 West Brom 0
Robbie Keane finally scored his first Premier League goals for Liverpool as Rafael Benitez’s side went three points clear at the top of the table. Keane netted twice before the break with Alvaro Arbeloa netting an impressive third to seal a comfortable victory.
Dec 2005 Liverpool 1 West Brom 0
Benitez’s men earned a 10th successive Premier League victory as they enjoyed a New Year’s Eve party at Anfield. Baggies goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak kept the hosts at bay before Harry Kewell’s cross was headed home by Peter Crouch shortly after the break.
Sep 2004 Liverpool 3 West Brom 0
Another easy victory for Liverpool as Benitez’s reign started to find its feet. Steven Gerrard put the Anfield outfit ahead early on with Steve Finnan adding a second before half-time. Luis Garcia smashed in a third on the hour as the Baggies wilted once more.