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Rodgers laughs off 'fear of failure' spat

ESPN staff
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Contenders or pretenders?

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insists that neither he nor any of his rival bosses are afraid of failure in the title race.

Rodgers, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini have become embroiled in an increasingly bizarre series of verbal jousts as the battle to win the Premier League hots up.

Chelsea boss Mourinho's assertion that his team are the "little horse" in the race have sparked several animal metaphors to describe the title contenders, with Rodgers having described his team as both "foals" and "chihuahuas" in the last week.

Best of enemies

Wenger and Mourinho in 2007 © Getty Images
  • Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger have had plenty of digs at each other over the years. Here are their greatest hits:
  • MOURINHO ON WENGER
  • Oct 2005: "I think he is one of these people who is a voyeur. He likes to watch other people. There are some guys who, when they are at home, they have a big telescope to see what happens in other families. He speaks and speaks and speaks about Chelsea."
  • Apr 2008: "The English like statistics a lot. Do they know that Arsene Wenger has only 50 per cent of wins in the English league?"
  • Dec 2013: ""Boring Chelsea? I agree. I played against them 10 times and I never lost, it's boring. Funny, funny Jose? 10 times they don't win once."
  • WENGER ON MOURINHO
  • Feb 2005: "Take what Arsenal and Chelsea have won in the past eight years. I go with reality, with the football we play and the challenge we have ahead. I don't see especially that Chelsea play more English players than we do. Who have they produced, homegrown? Just one, John Terry."
  • Aug 2005: "I know we live in a world where we have only winners and losers, but once a sport encourages teams who refuse to take the initiative, the sport is in danger."
  • Nov 2005: "He's out of order, disconnected with reality and disrespectful. When you give success to stupid people, it makes them more stupid sometimes."

Mourinho has also made several digs at Manchester City and their boss Pellegrini, while describing Arsenal manager Wenger on Friday as "a specialist in failure".

Wenger, for his part, has argued that Mourinho's "fear of failure" is behind his consistent downplaying of Chelsea's title chances.

The war of words has intensified as Chelsea, City, Arsenal and Liverpool prepare to take a break from Premier League action for the FA Cup this weekend. Liverpool travel to face Arsenal on Sunday, while City host Chelsea on Saturday.

Rodgers has indicated that he will name a strong side on Sunday, although his priority remains Champions League qualification. His side are on course for that, as they lie fourth in the Premier League, four points behind leaders Chelsea.

Rodgers accepts that it is time to stop comparing the various title contenders to animals, saying: "It's getting stupid now, isn't it?"

And he is also looking to steer clear of the mind games that are threatened to overshadow the title race.

"At this level, you are focused on your own team," Rodgers said. "I don't think any manager working at this level would be frightened to fail. It is what drives you on. Jose is a wonderful manager and has had great success, Wenger in a different way has had his success too.

"This is the most competitive league in world football, so to be at the top you have to have something about you. I don't think the mind games will have too much impact. I can only speak for myself, and it doesn't affect me.

"I focus on the players, and let them do the talking on the field. It's the manager's job to release the pressure. The players are concentrated on their work. It may affect some players, but the majority have a strong mentality, and it goes over their head. It's going to be a really interesting final 12 games of the season [in the Premier League]."

Rodgers continues to play down Liverpool's title chances for this season, but believes they have the quality to be long-term contenders.

"When I first came to the club, Jose made the comment that the conditions for us meant it would be a miracle for us [Liverpool] to win the league," Rodgers said.

"I don't think that has changed too much in the last 18 months. For us, our objective is to finish as high as we can. In the Premier League, you need energy and commitment and quality to be at the top. We have those qualities."

Meanwhile, Glen Johnson is set to miss Liverpool's trip to Arsenal on Sunday - but is on course to return against Swansea in the Premier League next weekend.

Johnson has been forced to sit out his side's last five matches with ankle and groin problems. He returned to training on Monday, but Rodgers believes that the fifth-round cup clash at the Emirates Stadium will come too soon for him.

"Glen Johnson is working very well," Rodgers said. "I'm not sure that he'll be ready for the match this weekend, but if we can have a good week with him next week, then he'll be very close."

Johnson last played for Liverpool when they drew 2-2 at home to Aston Villa in the Premier League on January 18. Rodgers then took him out of the side, citing a number of niggling injuries as the reason, and initially refused to say how long the defender would be out for, sparking fears of a lengthy absence.

The player himself, though, stated two weeks ago that he was close to resuming full training, and his progress has pleased his manager.

"He looks fresher and he looks fitter," Rodgers said. "That period that he's had out has really helped him. He's in good condition. But there is still a bit to go yet."

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