Liverpool 2 West Brom 1
At times this season, the chaos that Luis Suarez occasionally brought to Liverpool has seemed like some kind of tranquil memory, but Brendan Rodgers has no concern about the club’s latest controversy surrounding Raheem Sterling’s future.
The issue over the 19-year-old England winger was played out in the pages of the tabloids last week with a story claiming Sterling was in no hurry to extend his contract followed the day after by an attack from Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher expressing his fury at the youngster’s agent for leaking the story.
Sterling’s €38,000 a week contract runs for just under three more years but his impressive performances, for both club and country, since the turn of the year have clearly put him in a strong bargaining position.
After a week of questions about Mario Balotelli’s underwhelming form at Anfield, the focus has now moved on to the question of Sterling.
But Rodgers insists he has no worries about keeping hold of the winger.
“It’s not a big issue for us. Ian Ayre has spoken with his representatives and he is quite relaxed,” Rodgers said.
“The club is dealing with the agent so everything is calm and the boy is remarkably happy here. There are no secondary thoughts about anything else other than continuing to play for Liverpool.
“Also, to continue with his development because he still has a lot of growth and for that, the best place for him to be is here. His representatives respect that and the club respects that. So that will get sorted out in time.
“[I’m] absolutely adamant [he wants to stay]. I don’t think there is anything other than that. His agent is a good agent and he understands this is the perfect place for him.”
Sterling’s influence was limited in a vital win over West Brom that at least took Liverpool into the international break with a feeling of mild optimism.
Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana were the hosts’ outstanding performers as Liverpool made it 10 points from seven league matches.
The two combined to put the Reds in front just before the break, with Henderson back-heeling through for Lallana to prod in his first goal since joining from Southampton in the summer.
West Brom levelled shortly after half-time when Saido Berahino thumped in from the spot after being awarded a penalty for a trip by Dejan Lovren that appeared to take place just outside the area.
After Sterling was bundled over in the area he got to his feet and pulled back for Henderson — whose powerful running and lovely passing was a real highlight for the Anfield club — drove into the bottom corner.
With Steven Gerrard moving forward from his quarterback role to playing in the hole behind substitute Balotelli, Liverpool were dominant until an inevitable late wobble, caused by their failure to add a third.
Although Daniel Sturridge will return from a thigh problem after the international break, Rodgers admits he could use Gerrard in a more advanced role in an attempt to get the best out of Balotelli in the future.
“He is a superstar player. This player is world class and for people playing alongside Steven Gerrard, it’s a privilege to play with him,” Rodgers said.
“But he is a player that makes the game look simple, Steven, and Mario knows that he is playing with one of the greats of the game.
“So it’s a combination of a top, outstanding player like Steven feeding a guy who needs certain types of passes and Steven can provide them. I felt it freshened up and brightened up the game for us and gave us a quality that brought us to another level.”
Gerrard has also been high on the agenda with a feeling that an advanced presser can nullify his effectiveness in front of the back four. But West Brom manager Alan Irvine concedes that the 34-year-old still gives opposition a major headache.
“I just saw Gerard Houllier after the game and we were talking about Steven Gerrard because obviously he knows him so well, and he’s a terrific player,” Irvine said.
“He’s finding another way of playing now and playing in that different role absolutely brilliantly so that he’s a key player for Liverpool still.
“Anybody that says his legs has gone needs to look at the time he chased Cristian Gamboa down the wing and stayed with him. So I’m not having that — he is a great player, has been for many years and will continue to be.”
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3-): Mignolet 6; Manquillo 6 (Johnson 64, 6), Skrtel 6, Lovren 5, Moreno 7; Henderson 8, Gerrard 7, Coutinho 6 (Lucas 75, 6); Sterling 6, Lambert 6 (Balotelli 64, 6), Lallana 8.
WEST BROM (4-4-1-1): Foster 7; Gamboa 7, Dawson 7, Lescott 6, Pocognoli 6; Dorrans 6 (Mulumbu 71, 6), Morrison 5 (Blanco 81, 6), Gardner 7, Brunt 6 (Samaras 86, 6); Sessegnon 7; Berahino 7.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved