BRENDAN RODGERS has challenged his Liverpool FC players to prove they are a match for any Premier League team when they visit Manchester United tomorrow.
And the Anfield manager has no intention of asking Luis Suarez to reign in his natural game after another week of controversy surrounding the Uruguayan.
Rodgers’ men journey down the end of the East Lancs Road to face their bitter North West rivals having enjoyed an upturn in fortunes during the last six weeks.
Nevertheless, they stand 21 points adrift of leaders United in eighth place and have yet to beat any of the seven sides above them in the table this season.
But Rodgers is convinced Liverpool’s performances against the leading clubs illustrates a lack of strength in depth rather than quality has been the reason for his team’s top-flight struggles.
“You look at the one-off games,” said the Northern Irishman. “We were better than Man United, even with 10 men. We should have beaten Man City. We deserved to lose against Arsenal. A young team fought well to get a point at Chelsea.
“But it’s about consistency, and what gives you that is your depth of squad.
“When I first came in here, my main objective wasn’t just about us succeeding, it was about building a competitive squad. In order for us to compete, the squad has to be strong.
“We have won seven of our last nine games, and it’s no coincidence that’s come because the Europa League has stopped and we’ve had one game a week.”
Rodgers added: “Our consistency has been good lately. Our biggest disappointment wasn’t Stoke – we’ve seen anyone can lose there – it was losing at home to Aston Villa.
“The difference between us and the leading teams isn’t quality but that bit of depth. That’s what we have to improve.
“We’re as good as any team in the league. We just have to become more consistent.
“But it’s over the course of a season that you have to judge our overall progression. But we have a chance to show we can perform.
“If we are going to progress, we need to be able to go to our rivals and have good performances and results. It’s a yardstick for us, but ultimately it’s not only about the weekend.”
Suarez returns to Old Trafford for the first time since refusing to shake the hand of Patrice Evra 11 months ago in the aftermath of race row between the pair.
The Liverpool striker was again at the centre of controversy this week following his FA Cup winner at Mansfield Town last Sunday, prompting Ferguson to state he hopes United don’t fall victim to Suarez.
But Rodgers, who will only be without the hamstrung Jose Enrique tomorrow, responded: “We hope we don’t have the decisions go against us that went for United. In the first game a sending off and penalty cost us the game. I hope they don’t get the decisions that can influence the results.
“We can’t go too much into it or I will get another piece of paper through like I got earlier on in the season.
“I believe Howard Webb is a very good referee. I’m confident the game will be decided on quality and not a referee’s decision.”
Asked if he would ask Suarez to be on his best behaviour tomorrow, Rodgers added: “No. I think he needs to be natural. He needs to be free.
“Luis’s character is very strong, and you find that with world class players. The background noise, he can park. When he goes on to the field, all the stuff that can get into people’s minds, it’s not a problem. His mental fitness is very good.
“He is only human, but he has the brain I believe to park things, which is part of what makes him world class.”
Meanwhile, Liverpool have cancelled their loan deal with Real Madrid midfielder Nuri Sahin with the Turkey international instead spending the rest of the season at former club Borussia Dortmund.