Belfast Telegraph

Rodgers relishes Old Trafford duel

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes a trip to Old Trafford to face a Manchester United side on a roll is perfect for his players despite their shaky confidence.

Failure to get out of the Champions League group stages following a 1-1 draw against Basle in midweek was a considerable blow to a squad which had looked to have turned a corner, however small, in recent weeks.

Contrast that with United, who are far from at their fluent best but have won five games in a row to lift them into third place in the table.

Defeat for Liverpool this weekend would leave them 10 points adrift of their arch-rivals and put Champions League qualification even further out of sight.

But Rodgers insists facing up to their greatest rivals could be the ideal remedy.

"The game against Manchester United is perfect for us and we hope to take confidence and spirit into the game," he said.

"It's more than a football game - you're representing a city and a group of supporters where there has been a great rivalry over many years.

"You've just got to find the ways to refocus the minds of the players, forget and learn from the experiences, and look at it as an opportunity to go and get onto a winning run.

"You have to be [determined] when you're at a club this size. The expectancy is what you want.

"We're very much focused on improving that performance level. We know that we can do that - we can put a run of results together that can keep us climbing.

"But really we want to keep improving on the performance level. As my teams have shown, we'll get better as the season goes on but we want to start that sooner rather than later."

Unsurprisingly criticism increased after their Champions League failure but Rodgers said they would shrug that off and look to bounce back.

"One thing that we've always had here has been the spirit in the camp," he added.

"No matter what the outside influences, what is spoken and written about, we've always retained that strong mentality and the focus is very much back on getting ourselves sorted for the weekend.

"It was vital we could not dwell on the disappointment for too long."

Having guided the side to within reach of winning the title last season the tables have turned for Rodgers and the Northern Irishman is now third-favourite to be the next boss to lose his job, behind bottom side Leicester's Nigel Pearson and Alan Irvine, whose West Brom team have won just one in nine league matches.

Rodgers built up a considerable amount of credit with owners Fenway Sports Group after last season, which culminated in him being given a new contract, and he is not worried about the Americans wielding the axe just yet.

"One thing I have always had with the owners and the players is solidarity," he said.

"Of course the owners have seen the progress over the last couple of years and like us all are disappointed with performances this season.

"But it is about reinforcing what we have done well in the last couple of years but planning to keep the club moving forward.

"That is the key objective for them and a primary objective for myself."

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