IT WAS the nightmare start to Brendan Rodgers’ Anfield reign. The bubble of pre-season optimism was burst on the Premier League’s opening day at The Hawthorns as West Brom inflicted a crushing 3-0 defeat.

Having fallen behind to Zoltan Gera’s stunning strike, the Reds then had Daniel Agger sent off for a professional foul and the wheels came off spectacularly.

Goals from Peter Odemwingie and Romelu Lukaku rubbed salt into gaping wounds and the Baggies’ triumph could have been even more emphatic.

Six months on from that chastening August afternoon in the Midlands the clubs will meet again at Anfield on Monday night.

Rodgers admits it’s an opportunity for Liverpool to show just how far they have come.

“I was bitterly disappointed after that game,” he said.

“I thought for 40 minutes we were much the better side and could have been two or three goals up but then Zoltan Gera scored a wonderful goal.

“Then we went a man down early in the second half and after that we disappointed.

“It was at a time when the group hadn’t been together long and a lot of our international players had come back for pre-season late.

“It was understandable but it didn’t make it any easier to take.

“It will be a totally different group facing West Brom on Monday with a different mentality at this stage of the season. We’ve had the chance to work together and at this moment there’s a good mindset in the squad. We will certainly be a different proposition.”

Rodgers is determined to ensure Liverpool maintain the standards which have been set in the recent 2-2 draws away to Arsenal and Manchester City.

On both occasions the Reds allowed victory to slip from their grasp as they were punished for defensive errors.

But the manager insists there is no lingering sense of frustration, just excitement at the direction the team are heading in.

“In terms of the performance levels, I have to be happy,” he said.

“I thought we showed incredible character against Manchester City after going 1-0 behind.

“The level of our game was very high. Obviously we were disappointed with the goals we conceded but offensively we were very good.

“We had 21 shots at goal and we look like we’re always going to score goals. We felt we should have taken more points but ultimately our performances will lead to that.”

After such a bright start to the campaign, Steve Clarke’s Baggies have fallen away alarmingly. They will arrive on the back of an eight-game win-less streak in all competitions which has seen them slip to ninth spot – two points and two places adrift of Liverpool.

Rodgers knows if the Reds are going to launch a push for Champions League qualification it has to start now.

“There’s a nine-point difference (between Liverpool and fourth-placed Tottenham),” he said. “It’s going to be very tough but it’s not impossible. It’s a lot of points to make up but we’ll accept the challenge in front of us and fight.

“If we continue to play the way we have been we will have a terrific chance. There’s great confidence in the team at the moment with all players wanting the ball and working very hard.

“We have got who we would consider big rivals for those top four positions still to play at home.

“Our home form has been getting better. We’re scoring goals, looking defensively strong and the crowd have been magnificent so we sense a real opportunity. There’s a determination in the group to finish the season well but West Brom will be a difficult game for us.

“They haven’t started the year as they would have wanted but Steve has done an excellent job there.”

Raheem Sterling has recovered from a dead leg but Rodgers is still waiting on striker Daniel Sturridge, who was ruled out of England’s midweek friendly with Brazil due to a thigh problem.

“We will just monitor him over the next couple of days,” he said.

“It’s not overly serious but we need to assess to see where he’s at.”

New signing Philippe Coutinho trained with the squad for the first time at Melwood yesterday and could be named among the substitutes.

Rodgers is excited about the prospect of seeing the £8.5million Brazilian midfielder in action.

“We will see how Philippe goes over the next couple of days but he’s a young player I have very high hopes for,” Rodgers added.

“Him coming into the group adds competition. In the past few games the team has been exceptional but you need players fighting to get in. We need to build a competitive squad in order for us to challenge.”