Liverpool V Aston Villa at Anfield : Match Preview

17 January 2014 04:31
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Rodgers: We are stronger now

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes his side have developed a mental toughness which means he is more confident talking about a title challenge than he has previously.

The team are fourth, six points behind leaders Arsenal, and the Reds boss thinks this is due in part to the fact the psychology of the players has changed.

Rodgers talks about mental endurance, personality, confidence and belief and, after last weekend, has evidence to back up his claims.

Leading 2-0 at Stoke - where they had not won for almost 30 years in the league - Liverpool were pegged back to 2-2 at half-time before coming through to win 5-3.

That, said the manager, said more about their state of mind than it did about their talent.

"It was a wonderful demonstration of mental endurance," he said.

"I am sure people sat at home at half-time were thinking 'this is a true test' but in the second half we demonstrated emphatically how our game is improving on the pitch - but equally important was the mental personality and fitness.

"I look at it as a game similar to the one at Tottenham (a 5-0 win), a game which sets up a standard for us.

"At Tottenham it was a wonderful footballing display. Stoke away, in the situation we were in, was a great benchmark of our mental fitness.

"What it gives you is that great belief. We go into any stadium without the fear to play, whatever the opponent.

"You are not going to win the game purely on ability. There are going to be games when you are not playing as well and you have to find a way to get a result - and that was last weekend.

"Psychology is a massive part, at the elite level of sport it is the edge, and that type of performance and result bodes well in the coming months because each game is very important."

Last weekend showed just how true that statement was. Liverpool began the weekend fourth but slipped to sixth before regaining their original position late on Sunday evening.

While the top three of Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea remain most people's choice for title contenders Rodgers insists his side now cannot be discounted.

"We've got all those teams to play at home, and we're only six points off the leaders, so you have to feel that we are (in the title race), and we have the confidence and belief in ourselves," he added ahead of the visit of Aston Villa.

Striker Daniel Sturridge is set for a recall to the starting line-up after scoring on his comeback from injury as a substitute at Stoke.

Midfielder Joe Allen and defender Mamadou Sakho return to the squad after both missing three matches through injury.

Villa manager Paul Lambert has revealed the flak flying his way is nothing compared to what he has previously experienced in Glasgow.

Villa's increasingly worrying home form in particular has resulted in Lambert coming in for criticism midway through his second season in charge.

Villa have failed to win any of their last six matches in front of their own fans, with the nadir a 2-1 defeat to League One side Sheffield United in the FA Cup earlier this month.

Lambert, however, is adamant he has broad enough shoulders to cope with the snipers, especially after his time as a player with Celtic and their bitter local rivalry with Rangers.

Reflecting on the comments now to then, Lambert said: "I used to walk the streets of Glasgow at times and(exhales a deep breath). If you can handle Glasgow then you can handle a lot of places.

"Criticism is part of the game. You take it on the chin and you try and move on and learn from it. You stay level, which is important."

Crucially for Lambert, he received a resounding vote of confidence from chief executive Paul Faulkner this week, citing that he and owner Randy Lerner have absolute trust in the Scot.

That is music to Lambert's ears as he said: "It's always good to get support from people.

"But I've never lost my focus. Everybody knows football - one minute you are up, the next you are down.

"Very rarely do you get an even keel. It's just learning to live with that kind of situation. The more experience you get and the older you get, you live with the situation."

Lambert will have two new faces on show to bolster his squad in striker Grant Holt and defender Ryan Bertrand, signed this week on loan until the end of the season from Wigan and Chelsea respectively.

However, defender Nathan Baker is out after he sustained concussion in Monday's 2-1 home defeat to Arsenal.

Source: PA

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