Raheem Sterling backed to handle pressure in Liverpool’s front line

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has no concerns about Raheem Sterling's ability to handle the physical and mental pressure of being the team's attacking focal point.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 19, 2014: Liverpool's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring the third winning goal against Queens Park Rangers during the Premier League match at Loftus Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With striker Daniel Sturridge still at least a fortnight away from returning from a thigh injury, Sterling has occupied the centre-forward role in the last five matches.

On Monday he became embroiled in a spat with Swansea's Federico Fernandez, which resulted in both players slapping each other around the head.

The pair escaped punishment on the night and also any retrospective action, and Rodgers is confident the 20-year-old can handle the unwanted attention which comes with being the side's main striker.

"I've been so impressed with his ability to deal with pressure," said the Reds boss.

"It was an unfortunate incident and the referee called it right. They had been niggling at each other all game but it was nothing.

"Fernandez is a good player and he gave him (Sterling) a hard time – I don't think he's had that in his time.

"I have no qualms about him dealing with those moments. He has dealt with pressure since he broke into the team aged 17.

"There will be moments in the game when the red mist may come across and of course every player has to handle that.

"He is so strong physically, he surprises a lot of people with his body strength, so he can make defenders look silly not just with his pace.

"He accepts it (physical confrontation) is part of the game and teams may want to do that, but it is important you retain that self-control and concentrate on your performance."

Since missing a number of chances at Manchester United in his first match in the position, the youngster has begun to get to grips with what the role entails.

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - Boxing Day, Friday, December 26, 2014: Liverpool's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring the first goal against Burnley during the Premier League match at Turf Moor. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He got two against Bournemouth in the Capital One Cup and scored the only goal of the match at Burnley on Boxing Day with a carbon copy of a chance he missed at Old Trafford, and his stint as a centre-forward is not attracting as nearly as much criticism as it did a fortnight ago.

"The thing that impressed me with Raheem is his tactical idea of the game," added Rodgers.

"We set the team up to press and that was one of the key things for putting him in the team.

"He can play anywhere along that front line and that is the type of player I like.

"There is no doubt you need to have a player in there who scores goals but you can see that in him that he has the ability to do that."

Captain Steven Gerrard will return to the starting line-up to face struggling Leicester at Anfield on New Year's Day.

The midfielder is in the final six months of his contract and effectively could open negotiations with a foreign club now, but Rodgers remains relaxed about the situation.

"I think he has earned that respect if he does," the Northern Irishman said.

"I have a great relationship and communication with Steven so we understand exactly the position."

Rodgers does not expect to do much business in the transfer window, preferring to try to improve the many players he signed in the summer, but has not ruled out recalling 19-year-old Jordon Ibe from an impressive loan spell at high-flying SkyBet Championship side Derby.

"I have seen a lot of Jordon's games and he has been outstanding but that is the reason why we sent him out – to get game experience," said Rodgers.

"We need just to decide whether it is the right thing to bring him back or continue his great development at Derby."