LIVERPOOL manager Brendan Rodgers has spoken for the first time about Steven Gerrard's poor form this season and said the captain's sense of responsibility to the young players in the reshaped team may be on his mind.
Gerrard has scored two goals in 20 games but has also become far more anonymous in the Liverpool midfield, with his performance at Swansea on Sunday one of his poorest in years.
It is hard to avoid the impression the 32-year-old is taking time to adjust to the manager's new system, which militates against him playing the immediate long pass which has become his trademark. In Rodgers' three-man midfield, Gerrard is neither the link-up man nor the defensive shield and has rarely looked so lost as he did at the Liberty Stadium.
Rodgers, whose side go to Tottenham tonight, said: "Obviously, as the skipper of this club and going through this period, he'll maybe feel (the need to rein himself in because of the younger players). He is so focused on improving this club so it's maybe something subconsciously that is within his mind."
The manager also insisted there had been no change in the offensive role Gerrard was being asked to play.
"Playing in the 4-3-3, you've got one pivot and two advanced players and it's really those two (including Gerrard) we want to get in the box and scoring goals.
"It's his instinct. The great thing is he wants to penetrate. Our game isn't about possession. It's about tempo and the speed of the game, and the way he plays and passes and the tempo of his game is superb. I just want him to be the player he is," Rodgers said.
"He's 32 years of age. Steven's one that will fit into the team's balance when we haven't got the ball. But there's been nothing different asked really, because it is the responsibility of the midfield player to get forward and get a goal."
Rodgers, who agreed the uncertainty created by the change of manager at Chelsea might help in his own club's attempts to secure Daniel Sturridge's signature, was coy when it was put to him that he might have become Spurs manager in the summer: "It's irrelevant and no (it's not interesting)."
He did accept his club must compete with the likes of Tottenham for Champions League places in the future if they are to attract the best players.
"Over the course of the summer they invested something in the region of £55m net in terms of everything they were putting into the group," said the Reds boss.
"But it is not just in the last window, Tottenham have been building steadily and have worked their way up the league to become challenges for those Champions League positions.
"Of course Liverpool want to be in for the top players and top talents and this is a club that will bring in those players. But obviously a lot of players want to be in the Champions League, so if they want to come in here that is an area we want to get into in the coming years.
"We know we are not too far away and are very close to arriving in that zone that we want to be in."
Rodgers' squad requires significant arrivals in January, but the manager has stated on several occasions he will not have a huge amount to spend. But the Antrim man is hopeful alternative methods will be equally as successful.
"If you haven't got the investment you have to find other ways of doing it and that is where we are at the moment," he added. "That is the challenge for us and one we are accepting.
"Globally we are looking at a way of working, can we be different in our way of playing, can we find a bargain somewhere, can we develop young players and bring them through?"
Rodgers also stressed he could have signed Gylfi Sigurdsson – who was asking for double the £30,000 weekly wage Liverpool were offering – had they wanted to pursue the deal.
"It (Sigurdsson) was something that if we wanted to do it we could have done it, but it wasn't to be and we moved on. There was an offer to sign Dempsey – he was obviously a player who had done well during his time at Fulham and I am sure the likes of ourselves and other clubs were interested.
"But the club felt they had done what they could to get the player and he moved on to Tottenham."
Lucas Leiva will be back in the squad against Southampton on Saturday after recovering from injury. (© Independent News Service)