Balotelli out of Stoke clash as Rodgers answers questions on difficult season so far

Brendan Rogers Press Conference Smiling - 16/02/2014

Balotelli has missed the past two games because of a groin injury, meaning that Rickie Lambert is likely to lead the line once again.

Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli is ruled out of tomorrow's game against Stoke City, meaning that Rickie Lambert is likely to lead the attack once again for the Reds.

Balotelli has been struggling with a groin injury since the international break, and Lambert has proved himself worthy of his place having scored twice in each of his last two starts.

Manager Brendan Rodgers has been full of praise for the 32-year-old, saying: "Rickie has been excellent. He just needed a goal. He's a rhythm player. He looks like a different player for us."

The Reds go into the game on the back foot having not won in each of their last five games in all competitions, and they currently find themselves in 12th place in the Premier League after 12 games.

Rodgers told reporters: "A few months ago I was manager of the year, now I'm tipped to get sacked. All I can focus on is what you can control.

"The focus will always be on the players and be the best they can, to win football games. When we were going for the title, we still had criticism by players, pundits – but we nearly did it in the end.

"I'll always respect opinions of former players of this club, I'll take on board any sort of criticism but I'm more focused on my own job."

Despite the difficult start to the campaign the Reds have endured, Rodgers seems optimistic the season will ultimately end up positive. They're currently five points off the top four, but are a win away from qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League, and in the quarter-finals of the League Cup.

He said: "There's a lot of time left, a big chunk of the season to go. We have been nowhere near what we would expect. We're five points off the top four and the points total is the lowest it has been in the Premier League, so it tells you it is a unique league this year.

"Our objective, like last season, is fourth."

The form of Simon Mignolet has come under the spotlight this week after the goalkeeper came up with a howler during the 2-2 draw against Ludogorets that led to the Bulgarian side taking an early lead in Sofia.

But Rodgers has said the Belgian is coping well despite the amount of criticism he has received for his performances.

He said: "We're losing games of football, not playing so well, it's what happens and when you're at a club like LFC the focus on you is magnified and you have to accept it as part of the job."

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