Liverpool v West Ham
Today: Anfield, 3pm
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers knows his decision to sell Stewart Downing could come back to haunt him again when he comes up against the West Ham star today.
Few questioned Rodgers’ decision to sell Downing to West Ham last season, as despite arriving at Anfield with a £20million (€26 million) price tag on his shirt, Downing struggled to hold down a first-team place with the Reds and often ended up filling in at left-back.
Eighteen months on, Downing has become one of the most effective midfielders in the Premier League.
Sam Allardyce has revitalised the 30-year-old’s career by moving the player into a central role, where he performed superbly to see Liverpool off when the two teams last met.
Downing nullified the threat Steven Gerrard posed and also had a hand in every one of West Ham’s goals.
The 3-1 win at Upton Park was arguably Downing’s best display of an impressive season and Rodgers admits if he had his way, the 30-year-old would still be on Merseyside.
“Stewart was one I did not want to let go,” the Liverpool boss said.
“It was a difficult start for him, but when we worked together at the beginning in the second part of the season he was one of the regular players so he wasn’t someone who I wanted to move on.
“He is a really gifted player technically, he has a wonderful technique, he plays games and trains every day and is a good guy so it’s not surprised me how well he has done.”
Downing is not the only West Ham player hoping to prove Rodgers wrong today. Andy Carroll joined Liverpool from Newcastle for £35m (€46m) four years ago, but returned just two goals in his first season at the club.
Like Downing, he has found a new lease of life at West Ham, despite several injuries.
Rodgers has been impressed by the 26-year-old’s form since he returned from a four-month foot injury layoff.
“Andy is fantastic football player,” said Rodgers of Carroll, who has scored two goals in his last two Premier League games.
“He has quality and ability around the box. I just felt in terms of how I play and maybe how the team operates that he might not have been a regular player because of the movement and the speed at which we try to work. But he is an outstanding player and when he is fit he has shown that at West Ham.”
Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat at Upton Park was one of the lowest points of a testing season for Rodgers. But the Irishman is convinced his team have improved greatly since September’s defeat in the capital.
“We were struggling. We were trying to play with the same flow and rhythm, but we just couldn’t find it. I think you see now the confidence in the team. I think we’ve returned to the top level.”
The return of striker Daniel Sturridge, who is available for today’s match, will increase confidence further.
For West Ham, Joey O’Brien (hamstring) and James Collins (groin) could add to Allardyce’s defensive woes but Senegal’s exit from the African Nations Cup may see Cheikhou Kouyate return in midfield.
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