Liverpool panic: the challenges Rodgers must overcome
Reds must win against Bournemouth in the League Cup as spectre of Hodgson looms for Rodgers
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has dismissed talk of a split in the squad ahead of the Reds' clash with Bournemouth in the League Cup tonight, but he has admitted that if the club are to retain the services of players like Raheem Sterling things will have to improve.
The pressure on Rodgers is mounting as Liverpool's season disintegrates, and reports that Sterling is angling for a big money move to a European club have only added to the sense of crisis at Anfield.
Rodgers said reports of unrest were "totally untrue" but did admit that his players were "not happy that we're not winning games".
It makes Liverpool's trip to Bournemouth a critical one for Rodgers and Liverpool, who now face a number of challenges:
Eight months ago Liverpool looked set for their first title in more than 20 years, but the speed of Liverpool's decline has given the crisis added momentum, says Paul Hayward in the Daily Telegraph.
"Panic is intrinsic to football, and Big Club panic is especially consuming. When Liverpool struggle, people roll out the end-of-empire talk. Yet few teams (and few managers) have stumbled into agitation on this scale... By any standards this is a maelstrom, made worse by intense analysis of every cough and spit."
A lack of leaders
Rodgers should not be blamed for all Liverpool's woes, says Hayward. He is suffering from the loss of Luis Suarez and the absence through injury of Daniel Sturridge. And those two players have not been adequately replaced in terms of talent or character.
"Liverpool are caught in the pincer of a sharp drop in talent and the modern phenomenon of over-priced and over-paid players hiding behind the nearest bush when times turn hard," he says.
Last week the England star turned down a new £70,000-a-week Anfield contract, prompting talk of an exit. Real Madrid are said to be interested in the winger and now Bayern Munich have joined the hunt according to The Independent.
Rodgers has attempted to quash the rumours, describing Sterling as "a real catalyst and a talisman for this team", adding: "Raheem is happy here and he loves being a Liverpool player."
But the intervention of BBC pundit, and ex-Everton defender, Phil Neville may not have helped the situation. He said this week that Sterling should knuckle down and tell his agent to "shut up".
A lack of trophies
Liverpool's collapse in the title race means that the club have won only one trophy in eight seasons, the 2012 League Cup, and the onus is on Rodgers to change that.
"For all his good work at Anfield, Rodgers has not been able to show off something tangible on a lap of honour," says the Daily Mail. "Even taking into account football's fickle nature, the fall in his stock has been remarkable."
The paper mischievously points out that in the 50 years since Bill Shankly won his first league title in 1964 every Liverpool manager except the deeply unpopular Roy Hodgson has won silverware. It makes the League Cup clash with Bournemouth all the more important.
Who will face Bournemouth
With the game against Championship leaders Bournemouth now so critical Rodgers is likely to play Sterling up front again in the absence of Mario Balotelli, who is working to come back from a groin problem and has been left out so he can focus on being ready to face Arsenal at the weekend.
However, Steven Gerrard is included in a League Cup squad for the first time this season: "an indication of both the importance of the tie and the need for them to avoid a second damaging defeat in the space of four days," according to The Times.