Liverpool's two wins over West Ham and Norwich to round out the first week of December gave manager Brendan Rodgers the bounce-back he had been hoping for following a dismal losing effort against Hull City. Neither may have been vintage performances for Liverpool, but they were both wins, and Rodgers credited a hunger in the current squad for allowing them to come away with six points after a very bad start to the week while also finding time to single out Raheem Sterling for particular praise.
"The hunger to win these games is important," said the manager. "These are the games where you've really got to make your home form count. Hopefully now teams come here and know they are in for a very difficult game, rather than being encouraged to come here and think it can be a nice afternoon. That's a great credit to the players and great for the supporters, because they are creating an environment for the team to play and pass and move. When they are behind us, it's like having that extra man on the field."
Some might quibble over Liverpool's largely lethargic performance in the first half of Saturday's match looking little like a side that was hungry for a win, but regardless of how they got to three points, in the end they did. For a side that has too often in recent played down to the level of their opponents and dropped points, winning ugly—or at least uglier than the final score might suggest—is key in any hopes of the club returning to the top four for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Also key, at least over the next month or two, will be the play of Raheem Sterling. When it comes to Rodgers' team selection, it often seems that when you're in you're in—and when you're out, you'd best get used to life on the bench. Having spent most of the first half of the season on the bench, an injury to Daniel Sturridge has given Sterling a way into the starting eleven, and the early signs are that the steady run of games he's likely to get until Sturridge returns will do the winger a world of good.
"He'll be disappointed," said Rodgers of Sterling's Saturday outing against the Hammers. "He should have scored; he had a couple of very good chances. But confidence is returning for him. He's making some great runs beyond, it's just if he can get that bit of composure. He slipped a couple of times when he was in good positions. He's a terrific young player to have. He will always be important for us this season; he didn't play so much in the opening months, but you can see that he's a real threat when he's at the top of his game."
Sterling struggled to make an impact against Hull City, but looked slightly more composed mid-week against Norwich and followed that up with a largely effective showing against West Ham—even if he missed enough chances to give Luis Suarez another four goals. Now, the recent academy graduate must look to continue his growing form while putting away a few of the scoring opportunities that will come playing alongside the best striker in the league, and chances are he'll get plenty of chances.
Keeping an eye on other academy stories, Rodgers and the club have yet to reveal their plans for its overhaul following the dismissal of Frank McParland and Rodolfo Borrell in November, and the Director of Player Development and Head of Academy Coaching roles continue to stand vacant.