BRENDAN RODGERS has defended his use of Steven Gerrard – and hailed the Liverpool FC skipper for adapting his game to take the club’s youngsters under his wing.
Gerrard has been increasingly employed in a defensive midfield role this season, prompting heated debate over whether Rodgers is extracting the best from his captain.
Jordan Henderson played in an advanced role in support of Luis Suarez at Swansea City on Sunday, while Suso started the previous week against Wigan Athletic in a similar position.
Rodgers, though, claims not to have asked anything different from Gerrard, and instead believes the 32-year-old has took it upon himself to assume extra responsibility as Liverpool’s most senior regular starter.
“I don't think there has been a clear change in his game in terms of what I have asked him to do,” said the Liverpool manager, whose team are at Tottenham Hotspur this evening.
“I think what Steven has been over the years has always been the player who makes the difference and, okay, he may not have had the goals this season that he has wanted but he has still been effective.
“There has been nothing more or less I have asked in terms of defensive responsibilities.
“He has obviously had to take on more of the mantle because maybe it is a much younger group.
“He has played here in teams in the past where he has maybe got more experience around him and I think that is the biggest thing this year, there is probably a bit more responsibility on him in relation to looking out more for the team because of the youthfulness of the team.”
No player has appeared more this season for Liverpool than Gerrard, and Rodgers is adamant the England international remains a hugely influential figure.
“I just want him to be the player that he is,” said the Northern Irishman. “He is 32 years of age and has played a monumental role in the success of this club over a number of years.
“The responsibility of the midfield players is to get forward and get a goal. It’s Steven’s instinct.
“Our game isn’t just about possession, it’s about tempo and the speed of our games. When Steven plays and passes, his tempo of his game is superb. Steven will get better and better and better.
“I like to take the shackles off the players; tell them to not be a team that sits back and defends. I want them to go and get on the ball and play quickly.”
With Andre Wisdom having recovered from a knee problem, only Fabio Borini (foot) and Martin Kelly (knee) are now sidelined, although tonight's game is too soon for the fit-again Lucas Leiva.
Rodgers, meanwhile, is unsure whether the arrival of Rafael Benitez at Stamford Bridge will affect Liverpool’s plans to make a January move for Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge.
“You never know when new managers go into clubs,” he said. “We will see what happens over the course of the market for us. Hopefully we can get a few in.
“Ian Ayre has been dealing with the transfer stuff in the background and doing a good job along with the recruitment team.
“We will just wait and see. We will see what is affordable and available. We aren’t going to cure all our problems in this window. That’s the reality.”
Liverpool have further reconfigured their backroom staff with Rodolfo Borrell becoming head of academy coaching and Alex Inglethorpe, former of Tottenham, replacing the Spaniard as reserve team coach.
Borrell arrived at the club in July 2009 and has overseen the development of several players now in the first team, initially as under-18s coach.
Inglethorpe, a former midfielder with Watford, Leyton Orient and Exeter, has worked with Tottenham’s successful U18 squad in recent years.