BRENDAN RODGERS admits he is ready to withdraw Raheem Sterling from the firing line as the Liverpool manager grapples with his tiring squad.
Sterling made his 25th appearance for the club this season – more than any other player – in Saturday’s shock 3-1 home Premier League defeat to Aston Villa.
The 18-year-old has experienced a whirlwind few months since being handed his first start in the Europa League win at Hearts in August, including making his full England debut in Sweden last month.
But after a subdued performance against Villa, Rodgers admits Sterling is one of several players who need a break as Liverpool head into the hectic festive schedule.
“There is no doubt Raheem is one who does need a breather,” said the Anfield manager, who remains confident Sterling will sign a new contract. “I've thought about it over the past couple of weeks.
“In order to do that you need to have that depth to take him out and put somebody else in. That's something I'm thinking about – who to put in. He's a naturally very, very fit boy but he needs that mental rest as well.
“For the kid as well, it's about efficiency as well, tactically he's still very young. That time will come and he will get the breather soon enough.”
Rodgers accepts Joe Allen is another who needs a rest with the midfielder’s form having dipped considerably during recent weeks.
“There is no doubt, after working with Joe and seeing him, he's another one,” added the Northern Irishman. “If we're honest, there are a few who could do with that breather, especially mentally. It's something for sure I need to have a wee look at.
“We had a wee bit of lethargy. I don't know why because it's one of the first weeks we've had without a midweek game, and we couldn't have had a better week.”
Saturday’s defeat left Liverpool languishing in 12th place having taken just 22 points from their first 17 games – equalling their worst such return since three points for a win were introduced in 1981.
The Anfield outfit had won their last three games and had been defeated just once in their previous 11 Premier League outings.
And Rodgers said: “I find it hard to know where that performance came from to be honest. In some ways it was the most disappointing game we've had since I came here.
“We couldn't have arrived in the game on a better moment, but we must learn from this that no matter which team you play against, you have to be right on it. We weren't; we were careless in our play. We must learn.”
With the Premier League table so compacted, Rodgers had suggested before the game that a top-two finish was within reach despite Liverpool having been no higher than 10th this season.
And Rodgers said: “Expectation is something we all want to experience because we all want to be at the top end. You can't take a job at a place like Liverpool and then start complaining about expectation.
“That's part of it, you have to embrace it. We have been making progress, and that was our first setback in a long time. You will get that.”
Rodgers also had words of praise for Villa manager Paul Lambert, with whom he has drawn parallels in their efforts to rebuild a faded giant.
“I see some similarities with our situation, absolutely,” he said. “He'll do a terrific job there. I've have no doubt about that. It just takes time. You look at the team he had at Norwich, after three seasons he left them in good shape.
“There is no doubt that if you look at his team in several years’ time they will be much better than when he first came in.
“That's what we are both trying to do, to build a club up and create a culture that allows both clubs to progress – and you don't do that overnight.”
Meanwhile, Liverpool will continue to hold talks with Martin Kelly after the 21-year-old defender, who has 18 months remaining on his contract, rejected a new deal from the club.