Hodgson welcomes return of Liverpool stars

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The Independent Football

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson will hope to gain some encouragement from his first-team stars when they return to action in the Barclays Premier League against Sunderland tomorrow.

The 62-year-old has had a testing six days, having seen his side allow a point to slip through their grasp against Manchester United last weekend.

That was then followed by the disastrous midweek Carling Cup exit to League Two side Northampton.

The only consolation he can take from that performance is that none of the players on show at Anfield that night are likely to be on the pitch this time around after he made 11 changes for the knockout tie.

He will recall all his big guns - the likes of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Joe Cole and Jose Reina - tomorrow in the hope they can lift the gloom against the Black Cats.

Liverpool's first XI are a match for most sides in the top flight, as they showed at Old Trafford, but Hodgson admits the weakness is in the back-up players.

Asked if his squad was not strong enough to accommodate the sweeping changes he made in midweek the Reds boss replied: "I suppose the answer to that is yes.

"Basically there are 12 or 13 players, if you take Fabio Aurelio who didn't play against Northampton, and they are the more famous names.

"Outside that 13 the ones on the field were the ones we had and I thought it was a good opportunity for them to really show what they could do at Anfield.

"There was not any lack of desire or determination to try to do well but we didn't play well enough in possession of the ball.

"The fans know we took a risk playing a totally different team and I don't think they will see it any differently to the way I saw it.

"There is nothing I can say which will make them feel any better.

"We didn't lose against Northampton because we were casual in our approach or we were lethargic in our play, we lost because we defended poorly and we didn't use the ball well enough with the large amount of possession we had."

Gerrard felt the need to issue a rallying call to players and fans alike after the fall-out from their Carling Cup exit.

"Football isn't just about highs," said the 30-year-old captain.

"Throughout my career I have experienced both highs and lows and probably learnt more from the lows because you look at yourself first, look at what went wrong and try to learn from your mistakes.

"The players are allowed to be down but it's up to players like myself to pick them back up.

"Playing for this club there are big games every two or three days and we need to get everyone's head focused on Sunderland now.

"What I would ask all the supporters is to trust the players and what the players are saying.

"I've been reading and listening to what they've been saying and they've all said we'll get it right in the end - and we will."

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