Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Rodgers has high hopes for Downing

Stewart Downing has been backed for a successful season at Liverpool

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers hopes winger Stewart Downing can put his disappointing maiden season at Anfield behind him and start afresh at West Brom on Saturday.

The England international, like a number of former boss Kenny Dalglish's signings, began the previous campaign promisingly but tailed off and he finished without a goal to his name. Downing has already rectified that with the first goal of Rodgers' reign, hitting the winner in the Europa League qualifier against Gomel in Belarus just over a fortnight ago.

The 39-year-old Reds boss, who replaced Dalglish in June, has been impressed by the 28-year-old so far and said: "He has been excellent. He is technically strong and physically quick and that aggressive part of his game is coming back, which is important."

He added: "I have seen him since he was a young player at Middlesbrough and he had periods at Villa where he was excellent.

"Obviously coming to a club like this the first season is always going to be difficult but he is a player who has a lot of talent and he wants to work hard.

"Players will be successful if they are confident and I have seen him play confidently in pre-season so long may that continue."

The return of midfielder Lucas Leiva is likely to be as, if not more, significant.

Having ruptured cruciate knee ligaments in November the Brazil international - who was enjoying his best form before injury struck - is back playing ahead of schedule and Rodgers is delighted.

"I've been very impressed. I like his mentality," he added. "He is here to succeed, he is very much driven and he has an inherent belief in how we want to play.

"He has come back quicker than I thought he would. It is great testament to how hard he has worked."