STOKE-ON-TRENT, United Kingdom: Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is sure his team can cope with Stoke’s physicality as he prepares for Wednesday’s trip to the Britannia Stadium.
The Reds are finishing 2012 strongly, with a run of four wins in five matches taking them to within five points of the Premier League’s top four.
Rodgers is satisfied with the speed that the Reds have adapted to his passing strategy since his arrival from Swansea in the close-season.
And he has no concerns that Stoke’s aggressive approach will ruffle his team’s smooth style.
After keeping Swansea in the top flight in their first campaign last season, Rodgers has plenty of respect for the work Tony Pulis has done with unfashionable Stoke whatever the critics say about their tactics.
“I’ve always respected them. There’s no right or wrong way to play football but Stoke sometimes have got a lot of unfair criticism,” Rodgers said.
“How they play the game, they challenge you physically, which is fine, because it’s a physical sport, and at the elite level that’s what happens.
“To consistently stay at this level after Tony got the team promoted takes a lot of work. I know through my time at Swansea the difficulties last year in that first full season and you’re trying to grow on that season by season and Tony’s done that.
“It’s always going to be a tough challenge and a tough game but we’ll be ready for it because you have to be able to mix your game as well and this team can do that.”
Rodgers is confident of making some additions to his side in January after failing to add to his attacking options before the transfer window.
The Reds are close to a deal for Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge and have also been linked with a move for Blackpool’s England under 21 winger Thomas Ince.
Rodgers believes that some new faces, plus his team’s growing comfort with his methods, mean that Liverpool will finish the season strongly.
“You include the growth of the group, the young players have got experience, the responsibility the senior players have had to take on board, working with a new manager and finding new ways to play football,” he said.
“Some of our performances haven’t been rewarded but I know there’s a strong spirit in the group and we feel we’re improving all the time.
“As long as we keep that mentality to do our work and work well with the aggression in our game, we can really improve.
“We missed out on one or two signings in August and we don’t want to make many in January but the one or two that we do can make a difference and help us.
“If we do that then we can have a good second-half of the season.”
While Rodgers is in confident mood, Liverpool have not won at the Britannia Stadium since Stoke were promoted in 2008.
Stoke have kept nine clean sheets this season, which is more than any other team in the Premier League and gives them one of the best defensive records in Europe.
Pulis is delighted with the way his team have steadily established themselves as a force in the top-flight and expects more evidence of their progress against Liverpool.
“We have gradually got better over the five years we have been in the Premier League but we have to take our time and make sure we do it properly,” Pulis said.
“The other thing is that when we got in the Premier League, as a football club we had no infrastructure in place so we had to spend a lot of money on that.
“It’s hopefully building a club for generations to come and not just for this moment in time. We are what we are. We have to keep improving and do the things we feel are right.”