Belfast Telegraph

Brendan Rodgers still fuming at claims of unrest at Anfield

By Carl Markham

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was in an uncharacteristically abrupt mood ahead of tomorrow's visit of Arsenal.

The Ulsterman, usually so expansive in detailing his thoughts, provided only short responses to questions at his weekly press conference.

His briefing routinely lasts at least 15 minutes but yesterday's session om at the club's Melwood training ground took all of four-and-a-half minutes - and that included 11 questions.

Rodgers should have been in an upbeat mood after a morale-boosting Capital One Cup quarter-final victory over Bournemouth in midweek, not only because of the result but aspects of the performance, but it seemed far from it.

Criticism of Liverpool and their manager has grown over the course of the season, which has so far failed to ignite for a variety of reasons after the fireworks of the previous campaign saw them finish second.

Most of it has made little difference to Rodgers' demeanour but the Reds boss is known to be unhappy about recent media coverage suggesting there is unrest in the dressing room. He has denied there is a problem.

He was reluctant to provide anything other than cursory answers but did confirm Liverpool have accepted Mario Balotelli's one-match ban, imposed on Thursday for his controversial social media posting, that Brad Jones would continue in goal and that they missed out on Arsenal striker Alexis Sanchez in the summer.

Balotelli indicated on Thursday evening his intention was to comply with the judgment of the independent panel and Rodgers confirmed that was the course of action Liverpool were taking.

"We accept the ban so that's fairly clear," he said.

Asked about the goalkeeping situation, whether he would consider signing a replacement in the January transfer window and whether he had money to spend, Rodgers said: "There's no change. It's not something I'm thinking about at the moment."

Rodgers faces the prospect of his primary summer target Sanchez returning to haunt him at Anfield tomorrow.

He had hoped to secure the Chile international as part of the deal which took Luis Suarez to Barcelona, but when that was not possible he lost a straight fight with Arsenal, with the striker preferring London over Merseyside.

"All I know is that he's a world-class player. He was identified as someone who could come in and be perfect for us," Rodgers said.

"He's a brilliant player with outstanding quality and even bigger work-rate. We know he will be a threat."

While Sanchez has scored 14 goals this season, Liverpool have struggled up front in the continued absence of injured Daniel Sturridge, with both Balotelli and Rickie Lambert failing to offer a significant contribution.

In a change of tactics Rodgers has played Raheem Sterling in the central striking role in the last two matches, and while the 20-year-old fluffed his lines at Old Trafford he looked sharp in scoring twice against Bournemouth.

"The kid has been fantastic wherever he's played this season. He was outstanding the other night," Rodgers said.

"It's been incredible the stick the kid has received, with people trying to criticise him and put the focus on to him.

"He's been outstanding for us and it was another great performance from him the other night in a difficult game."

In terms of where he will play Sterling tomorrow, Rodgers added: "We'll see what's in the best interests of the team."

Meanwhile, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has urged Sterling to commit his future to the club.

Despite his current deal having two and a half seasons to run, Sterling has seen his contract situation at Anfield become a talking point.

Sterling's versatility in being able to operate as a striker has provided under-pressure boss Brendan Rodgers with a welcome boost, and Gerrard hopes to see the 20-year-old stick around for a lot longer.

He told a number of national newspapers: "I hope he signs a new contract at the club because I think this club is perfect for him, certainly for the next few years.

"He's going to play most weeks, the fans love him here. He can progress here and become a top, top player here so I hope the people around him give him the right advice because he should stay here.

"He's great to watch, great to play with, he's got that pace. When you look up he's always giving you an option and that's what I've thrived on throughout my career at Liverpool with the likes of Fernando Torres and Michael Owen."

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