Brendan Rodgers has wasted no time in playing mind games with Louis van Gaal by warning the new Manchester United manager that the competitive nature of the Premier League will make it extremely difficult for the Dutchman to win the title in his first season.
Van Gaal emerged victorious from his first meeting with United’s arch-rivals after Wayne Rooney inspired a second-half comeback and 3-1 win over Liverpool to win the Guinness International Champions Cup on Monday evening. But Rodgers is adamant that Van Gaal, despite success at clubs such as Barcelona and Bayern Munich, will struggle to come to terms with the ferocity and unpredictability of English football.
“I think what he’ll find is the competition in this league will be different from any other league that he’s worked in,” said Rodgers, who led his side to within touching distance of their first title since 1990 last season. “In a lot of the other leagues there are one or two teams and those are the teams that are expected to win.
“This is a league where the top team plays the bottom team and on any given day you can lose. You don’t get that a lot in the other leagues. I think the competition will probably take him by surprise and that’s from foreign managers I have spoken to over the years.
“I’ve worked closely with foreign players who have come in and that real physical competitive nature will be different from anywhere else he’s worked before.”
Van Gaal will be keen to tell his Anfield counterpart how he won trophies in Spain and Germany during his first season in each country but Rodgers knows that with Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea working feverishly in the transfer market this summer, the competition at the top will be as fierce as ever.
“I think it’s going to be really as competitive,” he said. “Last season was great and right the way through there were four or five teams right up there, and then in the closing months it narrowed down a wee bit. The Premier League historically shows that it’s a very competitive league. Man United will want to bounce back, Chelsea will be strong, Manchester City are the champions so they’ll be the favourites.
“The likes of Tottenham have been up there the last couple of seasons. When Harry Redknapp was there they were a Champions League team. So the numbers are there to make it really competitive again and difficult to forecast.”
Van Gaal will see how Liverpool rose last season from outsiders for the title to serious challengers and there will be no distractions for United after they failed to qualify for Europe. Rodgers does not believe there are parallels between what he inherited at Anfield in June 2012 and the situation at Old Trafford.
“I think for them it will be a totally different mind-set,” said the Liverpool manager, who hopes this week to conclude a new, extended deal for the Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho and has sold the goalkeeper Pepe Reina to Bayern Munich, believed to be for an initial £2.5m, subject to a medical.
“Domestically for the last 20 years they’ve been champions 13 times. So they have already been in place. When I came to Liverpool we were eighth at the time and the club was nearly going out of business, so it’s totally different. The players there will want to do better for themselves. They will be disappointed with where they finished last year, of course. With the quality they have, they will want to push on.
“We’re still a work in progress really. We made great strides last year and the expectancy for us is to improve again. Our task is to make sure we’re in the Champions League again next year. Our first target is fourth and then we’ll look to push on from there.”
Rodgers also urged Van Gaal to be wary of Manchester United’s owners, the Glazer family, considering how little time they had for his the Dutchman’s predecessor, David Moyes. He believes the controversial Americans let down the Scotsman Moyes by reneging on their original long-term plan of stability at Old Trafford.
“I think there were a lot of things at Manchester United that were not seen by many. He had to go in and where I felt for him is that he thought he was getting time All of a sudden when it’s not as hunky-dory as people think it is, you don’t get that opportunity. He signed a long-term deal and thought he had that longevity to do his work.”