English Premiership

Rodgers and Wenger face off at Anfield

2014-12-20 14:27
Arsene Wenger (Supplied)
Arsene Wenger (Supplied)

London - Two managers for whom criticism has become an unwelcome bedfellow this season face off in the Premier League on Sunday when Arsene Wenger's Arsenal tackle Brendan Rodgers's Liverpool at Anfield.

Arsenal's confidence has been improved by back-to-back 4-1 wins over Galatasaray and Newcastle United, but it was only two weeks ago that Wenger was barracked by fans of his own club following a 3-2 loss at Stoke City.

Rodgers, meanwhile, is under real scrutiny for the first time in his Liverpool tenure following a return of just two wins from eight league matches.

Read: Origi set to join Liverpool.

Last weekend's chastening 3-0 defeat at Manchester United left last season's runners-up in 11th place, seven points below the Champions League places and a yawning 18 points behind leaders Chelsea.

The highs of last spring now seem a distant memory, but Wenger, who has been at the Arsenal helm for 18 years, believes it will only be a matter of time before Rodgers's side start climbing the table again.

"I've sympathy for every single manager in the Premier League. Everybody goes through periods where it goes a bit less well," said the Frenchman, whose side began the weekend two points below the top four in sixth place.

"Our job is to survive crises. Part of the job, not all the job. When you want to make a long career, you cannot only win, unfortunately."

Rodgers cut an unusually taciturn figure in his pre-game media briefing on Friday, according journalists only four and a half minutes of his time and responding to their questions curtly.

But the Northern Irishman did become animated when asked to discuss the form of Raheem Sterling, who scored twice as Liverpool beat Championship leaders Bournemouth 3-1 in the League Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday.

With Daniel Sturridge injured and new signings Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert toiling, Sterling has started as a 'false nine' in Liverpool's last two games.

The 20-year-old squandered several excellent opportunities against United at Old Trafford, but Rodgers saw encouraging signs during the victory over Bournemouth.

- Balotelli banned -

"The kid has been fantastic wherever he's played this season. He was outstanding the other night (against Bournemouth)," Rodgers said.

"It's been incredible, the stick the kid has received, with people trying to criticise him and put the focus on to him. He's been outstanding for us and it was another great performance from him the other night in a difficult game."

Asked if Sterling would reprise his role up front against Arsenal, Rodgers replied: "We'll see what's in the best interests of the team."

Rodgers can draw solace from the fact that his team destroyed Arsenal 5-1 when Wenger's side last came to Anfield in February, plundering four goals in a devastating 20-minute spell at the start of the game.

But although Arsenal also fell to heavy defeats at Manchester City (6-3) and Chelsea (6-0) last season, Wenger believes that they are now a more solid prospect.

"We've won five of our last six games," he said.

"Liverpool are always very strong at home and that's why we want to continue to be faithful to our philosophy and play our game, but as well be solid defensively."

Arsenal trio Theo Walcott, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain (both groin) and Nacho Monreal (ankle) are due to undergo late fitness tests, but Aaron Ramsey is out with a hamstring problem. Calum Chambers returns from suspension.

Liverpool have doubts over centre-back Dejan Lovren, who was forced off against Bournemouth with a groin injury.

Midfielder Joe Allen is expected to return after missing the trip to Dean Court, but Balotelli is unavailable due to a Football Association suspension.

The Italian striker has been banned for one game for sharing a picture of video-game character Super Mario on Instagram that contained the words "jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a Jew".


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