Liverpool vs West Bromwich Albion Preview
The Liverpool manager has not only had to cope with the loss of the irreplaceable Luis Suarez, the double Footballer of the Year, but also a prolonged absence for England striker Daniel Sturridge, his other 'go-to guy' for goals, and a tepid start from enfant terrible Mario Balotelli
Brendan Rodgers could be forgiven for thinking the football fates were conspiring against him and lacklustre Liverpool as last season's runners-up prepare to tackle West Bromwich Albion from 14th place in the Premier League table at Anfield on Saturday.
The Liverpool manager has not only had to cope with the loss of the irreplaceable Luis Suarez, the double Footballer of the Year, but also a prolonged absence for England striker Daniel Sturridge, his other 'go-to guy' for goals, and a tepid start from enfant terrible Mario Balotelli.
The latter, a 16 million-pound ($26 million) signing from Milan at the end of the last transfer window, has contributed only one goal so far and appears to be struggling to overcome indifferent form that was particularly noticeable at Basel in midweek.
Moreover, his refusal to applaud the visiting support at the end of an uninspired 1-0 Champions League group defeat will not endear him to the Kop, whereas his antics were celebrated by Manchester City fans as his time there brought goals and a Premier League title.
"The boy is trying to work hard in the way that we demand," Rodgers, who expects to have Sturridge back against QPR after the international break, said in defence of Balotelli. "In terms of goals, he needs to improve. There is no question about that. He has not hit the numbers he will have wanted. "We need to return to being a team. When confidence is low, it can become about the individual, but we have to get back to being a team."
- 'Exciting challenge' -
The Northern Irishman added: "I think our quality wasn't what it should be in the final third (against Basel). We win and lose as a team, and we were not good enough."
Rodgers insisted he was ready to take the rough with the smooth and restore Liverpool to the exhilarating levels of last season, clearly not easy given Suarez's exit.
"It's an exciting challenge," he said. "In the first 18 months (of Rodgers's time at Anfield) we have been on a magic carpet ride with our performances. We are in a period of transition.
"It is something that was difficult when I first got here...you have to go through some pain but it is a great challenge for myself. We just have to keep it simple and keep to the values of this team."
As for a West Brom side, who will kick off a point and several places better than Liverpool, Rodgers said: "Alan Irvine (the Baggies manager) will have them organised and it will be a tough game. But we are always looking to be on the front foot when we play at home."
West Brom will include in-form Saido Berahino, who has scored three goals in his last two matches, although it was not enough to earn a call-up to Roy Hodgson's full England squad.
Instead the 21-year-old has been named in the Under-21s again, a decision Irvine supported.
"I wasn't surprised he wasn't named in the full squad -- I'd have been more surprised if he had been," said the Scot. "He's a young player who is doing really well at the moment and has great potential.
"I'd expect one day he'll become a full international. "But I didn't really expect Roy to select him this time.
"He knows him well, he'll pick him when he's ready. He'll know when the time is right."
Irvine added: "Saido's time will come. He may will be disappointed but I don't know. He might have been hoping after a bit of speculation this week. But he'll handle all of that mentally -- he's in a really good place."