Brendan Rodgershas defended Raheem Sterlingin the wake of recent criticism, but has risked causing a rift in his Liverpoolsquad by claiming the winger has no “world-class” attacking team-mates.
Sterling impressed alongside Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge last season, scoring 11 goals and providing 12 assists in all competitions, but he has endured something of a dip in 2014-15, going 21 matches without a goal before netting a brace against Bournemouth in the League Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Rodgers, though, insists that it is unfair to focus on Sterling’s underwhelming start to the campaign because the Reds currently have no elite forwards following Suarez’s exit to Barcelona and Sturridge’s chronic injury problems, and claimed that he played like Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez against the Championship leaders.
“He's got a wee bit of stick over the last week or so which I find incredible because he's been outstanding for us,” Rodgers toldSky Sports.
“Last season he was a young kid at 18/19 years of age, playing up top with some world class players, and this season he hasn't got that, that's the reality, but he's kept going and the focus has been on him. He hasn't scored the goals that people expect him to but it's not what I expect, I expect him to create goals and score goals over the season.
"He came in and performed brilliantly for us tonight," he added in his post-match press conference." His best position is on the left which allows him to cut inside, but tonight he played a lot like Alexis Sanchez. Two good feet, finds space and isn't afraid to play with his back to goal. He was outstanding."
Rodgers also insists that reports regarding a potential contract renewal for the winger have not distracted him from his game.
"He's done very well. He gets a lot of stick at the moment and the contract issues are nothing to do with him, it's down to his representatives to sort that out. He just needs to focus on the football," he added.