Premier League

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Early pressure for Reds boss Rodgers

FOX Soccer's Match Day crew breaks down the Premier League's opening round.
FOX Soccer's Match Day crew breaks down the Premier League's opening round.
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Patrick Barclay

Patrick Barclay is one of England's most experienced soccer writers. He has covered the game for every broadsheet newspaper and attended eight World Cups. Barclay is the author of biographies of Jose Mourinho (Further Anatomy of a Winner) and Sir Alex Ferguson (Football - Bloody Hell!) You can follow him on Twitter @paddybarclay.

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Brendan Rodgers spoke calmly and steadily, but the fury in his eyes told a different story as he sought to explain Liverpool’s opening-day defeat at West Bromwich Albion.

"I thought the scoreline was harsh," he said and, as if to preempt the obvious follow-up question of why, added that he was going to break with habit and criticize the referee’s role. The two penalties awarded to the home side and the dismissal of Daniel Agger – they, too, were "harsh."

No they weren’t. Referee Phil Dowd got his big decisions right and, in any case, one of the penalties was missed. The reason Liverpool’s share of possession – nearly 60 percent – was mocked by a tally of nil to three could be traced only to the abysmal finishing of Luis Suarez. According to Rodgers, "when you have so much passion for the game, that hurts – he’s world-class." A less sympathetic verdict would be that, while the Uruguayan’s movement fit that description, his attempts to round it off were so comically poor that at times he looked like West Brom’s best defender.

Suarez and a couple of Liverpool’s own defenders chose a bad time to have a bad day. It was Albion's first Premier League game under the command of Steve Clarke, who resigned after American owners sacked head coach and local icon Kenny Dalglish at the end of last season.

There was no gloating from Clarke afterward, just an assertion that his former club would be one of the top teams this season. But even this must have made Rodgers wince, for that expectation of recovering the top-four key to the Champions League was what defeated the Dalglish regime. Sooner or later, Rodgers must do that. It won’t be this season unless Saturday’s performance is improved upon smartly – and Liverpool’s next two games, though both on the home soil of Anfield, are tough ones; against champions Manchester City and then Arsenal, with Manchester United also due on Merseyside next month.

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Rodgers never came under such pressure in making his reputation at Swansea, bringing the club into the Premier League last season and then displaying football of such quality that it was rightly seen as something of a British Barcelona. Swansea played brainy football, though there was certainly no evidence of regression in the 5-0 victory at Queens Park Rangers with which they began the new campaign under Michael Laudrup. Rodgers is going to have to install the same discipline at Liverpool, starting with the defense.

Agger’s tackle on Shane Long was criminal and, due to suspension, will deprive Rodgers of the highly rated Dane for at least a couple of the upcoming tests at Anfield. Agger’s partner, Martin Skrtel, did little but raise questions why the new coach has been trying to persuade him against a move before the summer transfer window closes. With Jamie Carragher almost visibly ageing, something must be done to stop the leakage of goals that followed the Reds’ reduction to 10 men.

After Long had failed with the first penalty, Peter Odemwingie converted another conceded by Skrtel, and Baggies substitute Romelu Lukaku later put away a simple header. Zoltan Gera had scored spectacularly in the first half.

As Rodgers seethed in the technical area, at least he kept his hands to himself. Not so for Newcastle boss Alan Pardew, who challenged Liverpool for dominance of the opening-day headlines with a push on an assistant referee, Stuart Burt, who had annoyed him by not awarding a throw to his team during the clash with Tottenham Hotspur.

Pardew was banished to the stands to watch the rest of a 2-1 victory and can expect a substantial suspension despite his efforts to make light of the incident afterwards. The Newcastle later apologized and added: "’I told him I didn’t know what I was thinking." Of course, Pardew was right and accepting the irony of his pleas to his players to "behave and follow the Olympic spirit" is out of line.

The Football Association is unlikely to see the joke. The body principally responsible for match behavior is conscious that Britain’s joyous Games can only have increased the pressure on soccer to change its snarling image. This was the last thing English soccer wanted as the public, still basking in the warm afterglow of the Games, await the start of the largely sold-out Paralympics, whose heroes may include former soldiers disabled during service in Afghanistan.

The FA has already been active on the disciplinary front, announcing that England defender and Chelsea captain John Terry must answer changes of insulting behavior with a racial element (in a match against QPR last year) despite his acquittal by a civil court. Plus, there has also been a $70,000 fine for his former England defensive partner Rio Ferdinand, who endorsed the usage of a term understood as derogatory during a tweet by a follower commenting on Ashley Cole’s testimony on Terry’s behalf. Ferdinand, however, was not suspended.

This is unlikely to have impressed Suarez, who felt he was harshly treated in being banned for eight matches and fined $60,000 after a clash with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra last season. Right now, Suarez and Liverpool have other things on their minds.

Patrick Barclay is one of England's most experienced soccer writers. He has covered the game for every broadsheet newspaper and attended eight World Cups and nine European Championships. Barclay is the author of biographies of Jose Mourinho (Further Anatomy of a Winner) and Sir Alex Ferguson (Football - Bloody Hell!) You can follow him on Twitter @paddybarclay.

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