Rodgers hoping for Downing improvement
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers hopes winger Stewart Downing can put his disappointing maiden season at Anfield behind him and start afresh at West Brom tomorrow.
The England international began the previous campaign promisingly but tailed off and finished without a goal to his name.
Downing has already rectified that glaring statistic with the first goal of Rodgers' reign, hitting the winner in the UEFA Europa League qualifier against Gomel in Belarus just over a fortnight ago.
The Reds boss, who replaced Dalglish in June, has been impressed by the 28-year-old so far and hopes the winger can make his early good form something more substantive.
"He has been excellent," said the 39-year-old ahead of his Premier League debut as Liverpool manager. "I have seen him since he was a young player at Middlesbrough and he had a period at Villa where he was excellent. Obviously coming to a club like this, the first season is always going to be difficult but he is a player who has a lot of talent and he wants to work hard.
"He is technically strong and physically quick and that aggressive part of his game is coming back, which is important. Players will be successful if they are confident and I have seen him play confidently in pre-season so long may that continue."
The return of midfielder Lucas Leiva is likely to be as, if not more, significant. Having ruptured cruciate knee ligaments in November the Brazil international is back playing ahead of schedule and Rodgers is delighted.
"I've been very impressed. I like his mentality," he added. "He is here to succeed, he is very much driven and he has an inherent belief in how we want to play. He has come back quicker than I thought he would. It is great testament to how hard he has worked."
Lucas could be lining up alongside new signing Joe Allen after the midfielder followed Rodgers to Anfield from Swansea. The 22-year-old only completed his move last Friday but Rodgers rates the Wales international highly.
"I am sure he is very ready," said the Reds boss when asked whether Allen would feature at the Hawthorns. He had a good pre-season with Team GB at the Olympics and played 90 minutes for Wales so we'll see how he is.
"In all fairness he has only had a couple of days here. He was not able to play in the friendly (against Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday) and then he went away with the international team. But I know how Joe works and he knows how I work. He is a good guy, a very humble guy, and I am sure he will settle in fairly quickly."
Rodgers has now moved to strengthen his squad again, last night agreeing a deal with Herenveen to sign winger Oussama Assaidi. The 24-year-old, who must still pass a medical, scored 20 goals in 68 appearances for the Dutch club and has 22 caps for Morocco since making his international debut in February 2011.