After the home side had raced into a two-goal lead thanks to Robin van Persie and Nemanja Vidic’s efforts, half-time substitute Daniel Sturridge gave the Reds hope by netting in the 57th minute.
The Reds hemmed United back in the remainder of the contest, as they sought an equalizer, and though they carved out a number of promising openings, they were ultimately unable to muster a leveler.
Rodgers concedes his team was not at its best in the opening 45 minutes, but was left satisfied by its second-half efforts, which he felt merited a share of the spoils.
“I thought at the end we deserved something,” the manager told his postgame news conference. “I am very proud of the fight in the team in the second half. We went 2-0 down and when you come here, it’s always difficult. Other teams might have crumbled.
“We were disappointed with the first half. I thought we were too tentative. There wasn’t much in the first half, but any chances they had were through us giving the ball away.
“We then go 2-0 behind with again a disappointing goal but from that moment, I thought our efficiency in the game was much better and by the end of the 90 minutes, I thought we probably deserved something. It was unfortunate, but I am proud of the second-half performance.”
With only a wayward Luis Suarez shot to show for their first-half efforts, the Reds posed a constant threat to David De Gea’s goal after the break — and Rodgers explained how he and his staff had set about lifting the players during the interval.
“There are two things you need when you play a rival,” he said. “You need to have courage to play and you need to have the belief. I felt we were a wee bit too tentative in the first half.
“We wanted to pass the ball, which is great, but it’s got to be aggressive. We presented them the ball and three opportunities in the first half just by being a little bit tentative, which you can understand because we had young players playing here. Sometimes that happens.
“At half-time we made changes tactically but also reinforced the mentality. They’re real good players and it’s important you don’t let it [the game] pass you by — go and make something happen.
“I thought we did that and were unfortunate not to get something in the end.”
One change made by the manager was to replace Lucas Leiva with Sturridge at half-time.
The 23-year-old’s introduction during the break had the desired effect for Rodgers as Liverpool posed a visibly greater threat than it had done in the first half.
Sturridge was a lively presence in attack and the boss believes he’ll prove a shrewd acquisition as he settles into life at Anfield.
Rodgers explained: “This is a boy that can be a real top striker in this country. He is going to score many goals for Liverpool.
“You’ve seen in half a game today and 55 minutes last week [against Mansfield] that this boy is a goalscorer and all he needed was an opportunity.
“He had one goal and was unlucky a couple of times when he tried to organise his feet inside the box and just couldn’t quite get a shot off.
“He is going to be a terrific signing for us.”
On whether he was tempted to start Sturridge at Old Trafford, Rodgers added: “Not really. I’ve been assessing him in training.
“He’s coming back and sometimes you can rush a player back too quickly and break them. I didn’t want to do that with Daniel. He is certainly getting there. He hadn’t played for a while or trained, so it’s just a case of building him into it. Another good week’s training and hopefully he’ll be fine and fit.”
The arrival of the fit-again Fabio Borini added to the Reds’ menace as the Italian took to the field for the first time in three months following a broken foot.
Rodgers admits he’s looking forward to the prospect of Suarez, Sturridge and Borini linking up over the coming weeks and doesn’t foresee any problems fitting the trio into his favored 4-3-3 formation.
“It’s the first time this season we’ve had our goal scorers on the field,” he said. “Borini was bright when he came on and moved inside well. It gives us great hope.
“We’re 24 points behind United — but we’re not 24 points behind quality. The points difference is due to the squad — the depth in the squads is the difference for us. Once we close the gap in the squad over these coming windows, I’ve got great faith we’ll be able to challenge. I’ve seen enough hope in these opening months to suggest we will do that – and today was another example of it.
“The most important thing is getting in good players,” Rodgers continued. “What we’ve got in those players is that they’re all flexible. Fabio can play through the middle or off the side. We’ve seen Suarez playing central all season, but he’s played off the side during his career, and likewise Daniel.
“It’s about getting good players onto the field who can fit into the model and the structure. The shape of the team you shouldn’t see so much when you’ve got the ball — it’s more when you haven’t got it.”
Reporters asked Rodgers for his thoughts on whether Vidic’s decisive goal could have been ruled out after TV replays suggested the United centrer-back may have been in an offside position when Patrice Evra’s header deflected off him en route to the back of the net.
“I’m more disappointed with how we defended it, to be honest,” he replied. “We’ve got to do better at the back post. The ball has been played in, our line was okay but we’ve got to defend it better than that.”
Despite several promising performances, Liverpool has yet to beat any of the sides who currently occupy the top six in the Barclays Premier League so far this season — and Rodgers identified regular wins against the title challengers as the next step for his charges to take.
“We’ve been close in a number of games against the teams at the top end of the league, but that’s the next step for us,” the Northern Irishman said. “To win those games, that can set your journey off in a totally different direction. I said to the players afterwards, [Manchester United] is a football club that was dominated for many years. People still talk about the game against Nottingham Forest here. That was a defining moment to win that game and the FA Cup.
“For us, we’ve got great hope in the future and with how we’re working that will happen here. It’s going to be a long journey for us, but it’s about closing the gap in the squad, getting those wins against the rivals and then we can gain confidence from that.”
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