Brendan Rodgers before derby with Everton: ‘We know we need to be better’

Rodgers’ side have struggled in the Premier League so far, with defeats to Manchester City, Aston Villa and last weekend against West Ham, leaving them already seven points behind leaders Chelsea.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against West Ham United at the Boleyn Ground in London September 20, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Winning
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LIVERPOOL // Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes Saturday’s Merseyside derby against Everton offers his players an ideal opportunity to kickstart their stuttering season.

Rodgers’ side have struggled in the Premier League so far, with defeats to Manchester City, Aston Villa and last weekend against West Ham, leaving them already seven points behind leaders Chelsea.

The Reds also required a marathon penalty shoot-out to overcome Championship outfit Middlesbrough in the League Cup in midweek and were unconvincing 2-1 winners over Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets Razgrad in their opening Champions League game.

But Rodgers reckons victory over local rivals Everton would be the perfect springboard to the kind of dominant form that took them to within touching distance of the title last term.

“We know we need to be better, we know we need to improve our performance levels,” Rodgers said.

“The derby gives us an opportunity to do that - it provides a platform to go on a good, consistent run.

“Last season, we had a great spell after our win over them and I think we collected 36 points from then onwards.

“It is a game to relish, full of tension and intensity. It can help spur us on.

“Everton are a good side, with very good players. They’re different to us, but they’ve got a lot of quality.

“They’ve probably not got the results they’ve wanted, either, but have an excellent manager.

“He’s done a great job there and being a derby game, it will be tough for us.”

Liverpool will check on the fitness of England striker Daniel Sturridge ahead of the game, with Rodgers hopeful he will be available.

The 25-year-old has been out for three weeks with the thigh strain he picked up on international duty.

“We’ll be very happy to have Daniel back and we hope that can be this weekend,” Rodgers added.

“Daniel is someone that responds well to treatment and it’s gone well. He certainly won’t be match fit - he hasn’t played for a few weeks.

“But it would be great to have him back because he’s a wonderful player for us.”

Rodgers is also confident midfielders Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho will recover from minor knocks in time to feature.

But full backs Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan will be missing along with midfielders Joe Allen and Emre Can.

Everton manager Roberto Martinez claims his players are relishing the opportunity to end their Anfield jinx, rather than fear another heavy defeat at the hands of Liverpool.

Everton have not won a Merseyside derby away from Goodison Park since 1999, and were thrashed 4-0 when they last crossed Stanley Park in January.

But Martinez believes his players will look at Saturday’s encounter as a chance to tear up the history books.

“Our defeat against Crystal Palace last weekend, there was something spooky about it,” he said, in reference to the fact that Palace had also won 3-2 on their previous visit to Goodison Park in April.

“The last time we beat Liverpool at Anfield was September 27 (in 1999), so I hope the spookiness carries on at the weekend.

“The current record affects us in a positive way in my eyes because stats are there to be broken.

“It’s a difficult place to go but there are many others too, like Manchester United, and we have gone and changed the stats and history. I look forward to that - it’s an extra bit of motivation.”

Everton will check on the fitness of right back Seamus Coleman, who has missed the last two games with a head injury.

South Africa’s Steven Pienaar is set to undergo a late fitness test, while fellow-midfielder Ross Barkley misses out as he continues his recovery from a knee ligament injury.

Rodgers says Mario Balotelli has big shoes to fill

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes Mario Balotelli has some way to go before he can be considered in the same class as Luis Suarez.

Italy international Balotelli joined the club in the summer from AC Milan to replace Suarez, who moved to Barcelona.

The 24-year-old has scored once in five appearances for a Liverpool side who have struggled to replicate their form from last season.

And asked if Balotelli was the right man to replace the Uruguayan who netted 31 times last season, Rodgers said “We shall see.

“There is no comparison between the two as players. Luis was brilliant for me in his time here and developed to become a player who consistently delivered in terms of scoring and creating.

“Mario is different. He’s got a lot of experience for 24, he has come here as an established international.”

And for Rodgers, consistency is the key for Balotelli if he is to be as big a player for the Reds as Suarez was.

“Suarez elevated himself, that was clear,” he told national newspapers.

“He wasn’t world class when he came in but when he left to go to Barcelona he had put himself in that bracket.

“He did that because of his consistency in scoring goals and keeping his performance level high. World class is about being at the highest level consistently, being at that level in your game consistently. That’s what takes you there.

“I think Mario is potentially world class. You can’t compare Suarez and him, but Mario is coming in as an international striker and he’s a talent, no doubt.”

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