Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has told his young players to learn from Steven Gerrard or risk becoming a lot more familiar with League One.
The Reds boss gave a number of fringe players the chance to impress in yesterday's FA Cup fourth-round trip to Oldham but they were out-fought and slumped to an embarrassing 3-2 defeat.
Rodgers sent Gerrard on in the second half and the captain almost inspired a fightback at Boundary Park, hitting the bar with a fierce strike that would have drawn Liverpool level, but the damage had already been done.
Only three of the players Rodgers picked were older than 23 - Martin Skrtel, Luis Suarez and goalkeeper Brad Jones - and the Liverpool boss gave his young players a stark warning.
He said: "This is a harsh school. This isn't a club where a young player can come in and have lots of time to settle, this is one of the biggest clubs in the world, so you need to understand that every game you play is a cup final.
"And yesterday we had one or two that were too soft, simple as that. If you want to have a career at a club like this, you've got to be tougher than yesterday.
"It was only when Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing came on that we played anywhere near the intensity and tempo that we would expect. When you get the opportunity, you have to take it. If not then it can be very difficult for you.
"Yesterday hurt, very much so. But as the manager it gives you even greater motivation to push on. You learn things about players because if we're going to progress we need to make sure we have a group that's hungry in every game.
"It's where the admiration of the likes of a Steven Gerrard and the Jamie Carraghers of this world comes from. You look at Steven yesterday - take away his quality, just his sheer enthusiasm for the game.
"He absolutely flipped the game on its head. It was fantastic but he does that every day of his life, and that's why he's a world-class player.
"Our young players, they won't have a greater role model to follow, and they're in pole position to learn, because they're seeing him every single day.
"If they're bright enough, they'll learn from him, and then hopefully they can be here for a long time.
"If not, they might find themselves playing in League One later on in their life, and they'll regret the opportunity they had of looking at a world-class player every day and learning."
Rodgers has boosted his squad already in the transfer window with the signing of striker Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea and Inter Milan playmaker Philippe Coutinho is expected to complete a move shortly.
The two clubs are understood to have agreed an £8.5million fee and Coutinho is expected to undergo a medical tomorrow, although the biggest hurdle for the Reds may be obtaining a work permit for the 20-year-old.
Rodgers was again reluctant to discuss the deal, and he acknowledged Liverpool's weaknesses will take a number of transfer windows to address.
He described yesterday's loss as a "growing pain" and said: "We know in this window it was never going to be fulfilled but I think yesterday probably highlighted that, when we do change the team around, that we don't quite have that bit of depth yet.
"It was another marker in the fact that we want to improve the group and that's something I'm sure we'll do over the coming windows.
"If we can add another player in this window, if not more, then great. If not then we'll look in the summer to keep the building process going."
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