Brendan Rodgers defended his decision to give Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling a mid-season break but confirmed the youngster will be back next week.
Sterling was busy holidaying in Jamaica while his Liverpool team-mates earned a 1-0 victory against Sunderland on Saturday, but manager Rodgers said the break had been planned before the start of the Premier League season.
“He [Sterling] will be back next week,” Rodgers said following his side’s victory at the Stadium of Light. “In my time here, he has come from the youth team to become a full international player and one of the best young players in European football. There is a lot asked of him.
“I felt after the Christmas period, because he has played a lot for me, he has played over 100 games already, I just felt he needed this period to have a rest. He rejoins us again next week fit and refreshed for the second half of the season.”
“If I was selfish, I might have him here with me every single minute, because he’s been brilliant. But I need to think of the kid long term for Liverpool.”
Sterling, who is reportedly close to signing a new deal at Anfield, tweeted after Liverpool’s victory on Wearside:
Rodgers was similarly pleased despite Liverpool’s failure to add more goals in what was a controlling display against Gus Poyet’s side.
He said: “It was an outstanding team performance today. I thought we had great control of the game, I suppose the only disappointment was that we never got more goals.
“No matter how much domination you have of a game, when it’s 1-0 you’re always going to be asked to defend, and when they did that the players were outstanding. So a great victory for us and it just keeps our momentum going.’’
Rodgers believes the club’s summer arrivals are starting to prove their worth. The Northern Irishman came under pressure earlier in the season due to a run of poor results and a host of summer signings failing to make an impression.
However, Lazar Markovic, signed from Benfica for a reported £20 million last July, produced his best performance in a Liverpool shirt, scoring a ninth-minute winner to earn Liverpool all three points.
Rodgers said via BT Sport 1: “Our confidence is returning. It’s a team that gets better and better as the season goes on. This year a lot of new players have come in but they’re understanding their way of working.
“We’ve got a lot of exciting young talent here that are just slowly starting to feel their way into our team and our philosophy. They’re playing very well so we just want to keep that continuity and keep that work going.’’
The only negative for Rodgers was replacing captain Steven Gerrard at half time because of injury. “Steven Gerrard just felt a bit tight in his hamstring. He has played a lot of games,” Rodgers said.
“He was outstanding in the first half. We don’t need to risk it as we have got a big second half of the season coming up and he is very important for us.”