Brendan Rodgers: Liverpool can take strength from Hillsborough families
Manager believes Steven Gerrard’s rousing speech after City win shows determination to end title drought
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard reacts at the final whistle after the 3-2 Premier league victory over Manchester City at Anfield. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA
Brendan Rodgers is taking inspiration from the Hillsborough families as Liverpool enter the final weeks of their title pursuit.
The Reds became clear title favourites after beating Manchester City last weekend, and that position only intensified when City were held to a draw by Sunderland in midweek.
The big hurdle appears to be next weekend’s clash with Chelsea, who sit two points adrift, but first comes a trip to Norfolk on Sunday to take on struggling Norwich.
It has been an emotional week for Liverpool, with the club and city marking the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy with a memorial service at Anfield on Tuesday.
This year’s commemoration had a different feel to past services, with new inquests finally under way after more than two decades of campaigning by relatives of the victims.
Rodgers, who spoke at the service, said: “I’ve got an incredible bunch of players that work tirelessly every day. They’re very focused and concentrated on the job we want to do.
“Of course at this part of the season it can bring stress but we use the stress as a determination. It’s also an opportunity to show that you can fight.
“If ever I learned that it was this week with the memorial that took place. A wonderful service and the many people that inspired us that under the most stressful circumstances you can fight and use it as a determining factor to succeed.”
Steven Gerrard’s 10-year-old cousin, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, was the youngest of the 96 to lose their lives at Hillsborough, and the Liverpool captain was in tears at the end of the victory over City.
Gerrard gave a rousing speech to his team-mates in a huddle after the final whistle, and Rodgers said: “I thought it was great because it encapsulated a lot of what the message has been from myself right the way through the season.
“It was great that Stevie directly after the game was pulling the players together and saying it’s about the next game.
“Everyone knows what I think of Steven and the importance that he has to us.
“What I will reiterate, because people might have looked at that and saw that Stevie is the captain leading the troops – that was for the club, that was for the team. He really is a selfless player.
“Many people might have looked at that and felt it was Steven Gerrard really desperate to win the league. Of course he is, but he’s a wonderful ambassador for this club and his message for the team was the message that I’ve relayed all season.
“We just look forward. We’ll have plenty of time to reflect at the end of the season but we don’t now. We’ve just got to focus on the next game, which is Norwich.”
Liverpool have not won the top division title since 1990 and have not qualified for the Champions League since 2009, yet they appear to be dealing better with the pressure than either of their rivals.
Victory over City made it 10 league wins in a row, and Rodgers will do everything in his power to keep his players’ feet on the ground.
He said: “We’ve been asked questions, in particular over these last three months when we’ve played big games.
“Every game we’ve gone into, away from home or at home against a big team, this was always going to be the test and the challenge of can we deal with the pressure. And I think the players have been magnificent in their response to that.
“We’ll just continue along that road. We’ve got a real work ethic here. The environment is set up for elite players and the elite players at this moment in time are showing to be the best.
“But we certainly don’t have our hands up in the air. The finish line’s still a wee bit out.
“We just need to focus and keep producing the performances that we have, showing the character we have and, if we can do that, we’ll hopefully take three points at the weekend.”