Ahead of the Reds' mouth-watering clash with Arsenal at Anfield this weekend, Liverpoolfc.com sat down with Brendan Rodgers at Melwood to gauge his pre-match thoughts.
In an exclusive interview with the club's official website, Rodgers explained why he believes his side will head into the showdown with the league leaders in buoyant mood, gave his views on how the battle in the middle of the park could prove key, and explained why he doesn't believe the outcome of this game will have any bearing on the forthcoming FA Cup tie between the teams.
Brendan, the message from the players who spoke after the West Brom game was very much one of turning all focus towards Arsenal. Is that something you've seen in training this week?
Yes. I think it's something that is important not to dwell on too much. We were obviously disappointed we didn't take all three points, but there were still positives to take from the performance. We've carried those positives into this week, the players have been excellent in their work, and these games take care of themselves, really, in terms of the motivation for the players. We've just got to narrow in our focus, like we've done in a lot of our home games this season, and look to get three points.
You mention about these games taking care of themselves. Since you came to the club, has there been a difference - a growth - in the way in which your squad approach big games such as this?
I think there is a greater confidence now. I certainly sensed there was maybe that little bit of fear of playing at Anfield because of the result. What we've tried to do over the course of the time I've been here is focus on the performance. You worry so much about the result, but there is a process to getting the result - and if you worry too much about the result only, it can hinder your performance. We want to win, but what we can look to control is how we win and our performance level. That's something that over time has given us a confidence and a greater belief in winning games. We'll aim to replicate that at the weekend.
Another big game at Anfield - will the key be replicating the kind of performance and intensity we saw against Everton?
I think all of the big games are different, but one thing that doesn't change is the great atmosphere at the stadium. There are points up for grabs and if we can get all three, it gets us to within five points of Arsenal. That's our only expectancy - we expect now to go and perform and to win. We recognise and respect Arsenal as an opponent - they're top of the league at the moment and we're chasing them down. For us, it's really about focusing on our own game and playing with the intensity and quality that was in the Everton game, which was outstanding. If we can deal with that pressure of a derby game, play at that level of football and give that performance, the result will take care of itself.
You touched upon our home record there, which is excellent this season. How much of a part can the 'Anfield factor' play on Saturday in front of our fans?
It makes a difference. It is genuinely like an extra man for us. That real passion of the supporters, it really has pushed us over the line a lot of times this season. Hopefully we've entertained the supporters, particularly at home, but in those so-called big games - the likes of Manchester United and Everton - those supporters have helped us. Hopefully that will be the case on Saturday, I'm sure it will because the support has been absolutely fantastic. We just need that again going into the final part of the season.
As you mentioned earlier, Arsenal will come to Anfield at the top of the table. Does playing against a team who are also intent on playing an open, aggressive, attacking game make for a more enjoyable encounter?
Not always! We've seen games - many games - where you arrive into them thinking it's two open teams that are going to play open, attacking, attractive football, and sometimes it doesn't work out like that. It's certainly two clubs that are based on a possession game, a fast game, and for us it's really about performing to our qualities. We saw in the Everton game that tactically we were a wee bit different to get the victory. For us it'll be the same idea - we always go into every game and look to control, have dangerous possession of the ball, dominate the possession and look to get maximum points.
Both sides have a reputation for possession-based football. But are there any specific, tactical differences in the way the two teams play?
I believe there are. We look to have order in our game and look to have control of the ball, but a very important factor for us is the transition moment in the game - both with and without the ball. I think there are subtle differences. Both clubs traditionally are big teams who enjoy having the ball, but it's not always about having the ball - you have to do your work, be aggressive in your game and pressure without it, and that's something that doesn't get often talked about from ourselves, but it's a key component in our style.
Like ourselves, Arsenal like to dominate the ball in the middle of the pitch. How do you win that battle in the centre of the park?
It's an idea and view that we always look to have - the method of our game is to have that superiority in the middle of the field. We have players in there that can play football, and then we look to get players from other positions to arrive in there. That gave us a problem earlier on in the season down there [at the Emirates] when we had that numerical advantage against us. It's something we always aim and look to do it. Let's hope we can make it count and work at the weekend.
Well after this game, we won't have to wait too long to face Arsenal again - we play them in the FA Cup just over a week later. Will the outcome of this one have any bearing on the next one?
I don't think so. I think as the season has gone on, we've improved. We've got this game and then another game in between [Fulham], so I don't think it'll have any bearing. The concentration and focus of both teams will be to win the games, but for us we can only think of the next game, and that's what has served us well over the period of time I've been here. The rest will take care of itself.
As well as playing ourselves twice, Arsenal also have Manchester United and Bayern Munich this month. What impact, if any, could that have on our games with them?
Maybe not the first game, but maybe the Cup game. Arsene [Wenger] will have to plan forward in terms of his teams. They're big games and let's hope it's a problem we'll have next year. Certainly, it is something they're going to have to plan for.