Football - Rodgers - We're stronger now

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes the criticism levelled at his players this season has actually helped their progress and he now setting their sights on second-placed Manchester City.

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After the club's worst start to a campaign for more than a century the Reds now sit just four points behind fourth-placed Everton. But having seen his players criticised early in his Anfield reign Rodgers now believes they should now not be restricting themselves to thinking purely about securing Champions League qualification.

"They have been hammered left right and centre by numbers of people," said the Northern Irishman."When you are a club that is the size of Liverpool then that criticism comes. You can see in their performances it hasn't affected them and, if anything, we have grown from that and it has been the lever for us to continue to work well."

Rodgers added: "It is well documented, which is incredible really, but when you have won the titles and championships you have before that will come your way. But I was quite calm because their focus and concentration has been first class, our mentality was very much relaxed as we can only worry about ourselves."

Top scorer Luis Suarez returns after a one-match suspension for the visit of Aston Villa on Saturday and although his goalscoring exploits have been impressive the Uruguay international still has to carry the stigma of being labelled a diver.

However, Rodgers believes recent incidents involving other players has highlighted that there is a wider issue to be addressed.

"Luis Suarez was held up as the only one that seemed to be doing it," he said. "Whenever many other players were doing it, both British and European, it seemed to go very quiet. It's something that is the responsibility of the players. The managers can only guide and give their opinion to the players.

"You see it now becoming a part of the game but it's certainly something we want to eradicate. It's difficult for the referees because they are having to make that judgement straight away. Pundits and others get a chance to review it a number of times."

Rodgers also said the club had learned their lesson from last summer's transfer window when their pursuit of Clint Dempsey prompted a complaint from Fulham, which was only withdrawn following a letter of apology from Reds chairman Tom Werner.

"There is nothing for me from a managerial perspective to add to it," said the manager. "As a club we've all moved on from the summer and when January comes whatever experiences we had then we'll be better for."

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