Brendan Rodgers has defended his players in the face of growing criticism, not least from former player Jamie Carragher who slammed the team for being weak.
Liverpool visit the Bulgarian champions Ludogorets on the back of four successive defeats, requiring a win to keep their qualification hopes alive.
Sunday’s 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace brought criticism from Carragher, who now works as a pundit for Sky. He described the performance as another latest example of Liverpool being bullied, weak and lacking leadership on the pitch.
The remarks drew a spriited defence of his players from the Liverpool manager.
“We hear criticism of the team but this team has character, it showed it last season,” said Rodgers. “It has shown it’s got resilience. Okay, we concede more than we would like at times but you can’t question the character. That can’t be criticised. We have players who’ve shown they have spirit but when you don’t get victories it affects confidence and you don’t perform quite as good. My job is to keep instilling that confidence.”
On the issue of being bullied at Palace, Rodgers added: “It’s a comment that’s been made of course. It’s something that happens when you’re paid to be critics, well not critics, but to assess the team. When you lose games what I’ve learnt is that people will say they want and that’s what comes. Whether criticism is deserved or not you won’t like it but you just have to ignore it.
“I have a team full of characters, of fully committed people and hopefully that’s something that will improve. We have to stand up and show that we can get a result and tough it out, and that’s what we will definitely do.”
Rodgers was also forced to defend the form of captain Steven Gerrard, whose place in the side has been questioned following some below-par performances. There have been suggestions that Gerrard has kept his place because of his past reputation rather than his current form. It is a claim that Rodgers was quick to dismiss.
“It’s simple, I judge Steven on merit,” said the beleaguered Liverpool boss. “The spotlight he is under is incredible. I think people expect him to be the player he was 10 years ago and that is simply not the case.
“He has been adapted to a playmaking role, so the player who scored 15 goals a season is not there anymore but it is hugely unfair that he gets judged on that level.
“He is the best player I have ever worked with in terms of football mentality and the loyalty he has shown this football club. I have shown in my time I do not deal on sentiment. I do not pick him on sentiment.
“He is in at 8.30am every day to prepare for training. I judge him on that and the influence on other players. Of course he is coming to the latter part of his career but he is still invaluable to me. It’s an easy situation to manage because he is a top-class player who accepts what is best for Liverpool. He is a unique case at a time when modern football is very much about the player’s interests in that every decision he makes is in the interests of Liverpool. He can still contribute at a high level and it is my job to manage how that is.”