Belfast Telegraph

Rodgers' Reds gear up for key month

Manager Brendan Rodgers believes the next month will be pivotal to Liverpool's season.

After a disappointing start, the Reds recorded back-to-back wins for the first time in the campaign with victory at Leicester on Wednesday night.

And, because their main rivals for a Champions League spot have also had their own difficulties, achieving their primary aim of finishing in the Barclays Premier League's top four still remains well within their capabilities.

They currently stand just six points off third-placed Southampton and have yet to play anywhere close to their best football, or even field their strongest team, with striker Daniel Sturridge - who has been sent to Los Angeles for two weeks' rehabilitation - not set to return until the new year having not played for the club since August 31.

It leaves Rodgers full of optimism that a good month, starting at home to Sunderland on Saturday and then facing top-four rivals Manchester United and Arsenal in successive weeks, can put them firmly back on track.

"We have a bit of momentum now in terms of results, which breeds confidence in the team and releases what might feel like a little bit of pressure," he said.

"We still have a lot of work to do. There is a long road for us, but we are edging our way there.

"If we get to the halfway point in January and be there or thereabouts I will be pleased with that, considering the start we had in the first 12 games.

"After Crystal Palace (their third successive league defeat last month) it was a real difficult moment.

"The run of games up till that in terms of results and performances just weren't quite there, but the reaction and mentality the players have shown since that says a lot about their character and the determination to do well.

"We are not getting carried away with three (including the Champions League draw against Ludogorets) good performances and results. We just have to keep taking that confidence forward into the next game."

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard could find himself rested again.

Midfielder Philippe Coutinho has recovered from the knee problem which troubled him midweek, left-back Jose Enrique could come back in as his game time is also being managed after a knee operation

Sunderland boss Gus Poyet has backed his players to shrug off their Sergio Aguero blues and prove once again that they are a team for the big occasion.

A gruelling week which started with a gutsy goalless draw against Chelsea turned sour on Wednesday night when Aguero scored two and set up another in Manchester City's 4-1 win at the Stadium of Light.

It shattered the Black Cats' fine recent record against the best in the Barclays Premier League but Poyet insisted that despite their inevitable fatigue his players can retain the confidence which swept them to survival last term.

Poyet said: "I don't think we need to repair anything but the idea is to keep believing. I think it was more of a dream that we were in a position not to lose any of these three games in a row.

"I think the players know they played against one of the most in-form strikers in the world right now. It does matter how you defend but even then (Aguero) can do something special, so that kind of helped.

"The players need to recover. They don't have time to complain or put themselves down - they need to go there and take the opportunity to take the three points."

Poyet will look to freshen up his starting line-up for his side's third big game in a week with Wes Brown and Adam Johnson available again after injury, and Ricky Alvarez pushing for a start after coming off the bench in midweek.

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