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200 days, two different managers - the tale between two Merseyside derbies

Jurgen Klopp will get his first taste of the local rivalry in Liverpool on Wednesday night.

BEFORE KICK-OFF on the first Sunday in October last year, Brendan Rodgers was on the brink.

The Northern Irishman had prided himself on instilling a clear direction at Liverpool, but both he and the team swerved severely off track. It was simply a matter of when, not if, Fenway Sports Group would pick up the phone and tell him ‘it’s you, not us,’ and a stale 225th Merseyside Derby provided the platform.

With just one win in their eight previous fixtures, the Reds travelled to Goodison Park where five minutes elapsed before Romelu Lukaku cancelled out the game’s opener from Danny Ings.

Rodgers’ final declaration at the top table following the 1-1 draw was that the club “needed to build something” if they were to replicate the magnetic 2013-14 season, where he took the Reds closer to league title number 19 than any other manager in the last quarter of a century, adding “it will take time, whether that is with me or someone else in the job.”

200 days will have passed from that Merseyside derby, which was notable for nothing else but the 43-year-old’s sacking an hour after the final whistle, and Wednesday night’s showdown – Jurgen’s Klopp’s first taste of the local rivalry.

Rodgers was correct in his assertion that fortifying Liverpool could not happen overnight – a view echoed by the German at his unveiling, but in the double century of days since the previous clash against Everton, the club have made sizeable strides forward.

While they limped into October’s derby having only beaten a hapless Aston Villa 3-2 for their first victory since 17 August, Liverpool will swagger into tomorrow’s having dumped a formidable Borussia Dortmund out of the Europa League 5-4 on aggregate. The Reds have lost just once in their last 14 games, and are targeting a fourth consecutive win.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Everton v Liverpool - Goodison Park Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers gestures to James Milner from the touchline in October's derby. Source: EMPICS Sport

Since the start of March, they have dispatched of Manchester City 3-0, won at notoriously difficult Crystal Palace, booted Manchester United out of continental competition, dented Tottenham’s title tilt, seen off Stoke and Bournemouth and booked a semi-final spot at the expense of Klopp’s former side.

The only blemish has been a second-half capitulation at Southampton, which saw them surrender a comfortable two-goal cushion to lose 3-2.

There has been advancement on an individual and collective level. Divock Origi was an unused substitute against Roberto Martinez’s men last time out, but heads into Wednesday’s tussle having netted four times in four games, two of which he started on the bench.

Dejan Lovren was injured for the previous derby, but was a man shattered at the time. He admitted he wanted to “hide under a table” after his error-riddled display in the 3-0 trouncing against West Ham, and was a central focus of criticism. The Croatian enters this fixture having scored the all-important goal against Dortmund, as well as being the club’s most consistent centre-back over the past five months.

Those kind of turnarounds are multiple at Liverpool, but more important is the strength of the collective.

Klopp made seven changes against Stoke after a 1-1 draw at the Westfalenstadion, and his side still secured a 4-1 victory. He took it further with 10 alterations at Bournemouth on Sunday – with six academy players starting – following the astounding 4-3 victory over Dortmund at Anfield, and again, Liverpool bagged maximum points.

Regardless of which players drop in or out of the first 11, they are getting the business done.

There was a struggle for goals at the start of the season, but the Reds have failed to score just once in the last 15 – a stalemate in Augsburg back in mid-February. They’ve found the back of the net twice or more eight times during that spell.

Liverpool are no longer lost; they are following an unclouded blueprint and have a discernible identity.

Beyond the pitch, the toxic atmosphere that strangled the club has been eradicated, and as per Klopp’s first request on Merseyside, doubt has transformed into belief.

There is one thing, however, that has not changed in the 200 days between the Goodison and Anfield grudge matches.

There is a manager under-fire again, but this time, it’s in the opposite dugout.

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