at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
London – Brendan Rodgers admits he fears a fired-up Andy Carroll could wreck Liverpool's title challenge when the West Ham striker faces his former club on Sunday.
Rodgers quickly decided Carroll wasn't part of his plans when he took over at Anfield in 2012 and shipped the towering forward out on loan to the Hammers just two months later.
The Reds boss felt Carroll's physical style wouldn't be a good fit with his pass and move philosophy and his eventual sale for £15 million ($25m, 18m euros) has proved a wise decision.
While Rodgers's rebuilding of Liverpool's forward line with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge has transformed the team into surprise contenders for the Premier League crown, Carroll has struggled to stay fit for much of his time with West Ham.
But now Carroll stands directly in the path of Rodgers's road to immortality as Liverpool head to Upton Park within touching distance of winning the title for the first time since 1990.
Liverpool have surged to the top of the table on the back of some brilliant attacking play and held a two-point lead over second placed Chelsea going into the weekend.
Chelsea could regain first place if they beat Stoke on Saturday, but the destiny of the title remains in Liverpool's hands.
If the Reds win their last six matches they will finally end their long wait to be crowned champions for the first time since the glory days of John Barnes and Ian Rush.
With so much at stake, it was hardly surprising that Rodgers, keen to avoid unnecessarily angering Carroll, was determined to play down talk of a rift with the England international when asked if his jilted former player would be motivated to make a point on Sunday.
“Andy wasn't let go from here because he wasn't good enough Ä
I'll state that first and foremost,” Rodgers said.
“He is wonderful in the air, has a good touch in and around the box, so he certainly has nothing to prove to Liverpool.
“I think he is one of the best players in Europe in how he plays Ä that style of attacking the ball in the air is outstanding.
“When I came in here, everyone knew the way I worked and it was never to say Andy couldn't work that way, but we had other certain financial aspects of the football club we had to look at.
“He needed to play and I think he has gone on and done great for West Ham.
“When he has been fit he has shown he is one of the top strikers playing in that style of football West Ham play.
“Andy wanted to play because he had spent the 12 to 18 months beforehand not playing regularly, so this was a chance for him to do that and he has taken that really well.”
Carroll bagged just his second goal of another injury-ravaged season in Monday's win at Sunderland as the Hammers eased their relegation fears and lifted the mood after fans jeered boss Sam Allardyce during a recent home victory over Hull.
But Liverpool have been in red-hot form of late, winning their last eight matches and scoring 30 goals in the process to underline their title credentials.
And Allardyce concedes that taking on a Suarez and Sturridge inspired Liverpool is a daunting proposition.
“At the moment the Liverpool team in terms of form and coupled with results are at 100 per cent,” he said.
“Sometimes you can be playing really well and not achieve results, but at the moment, based on results and performances, they are the top team and are now in the position they find themselves in.
“At the moment Suarez now finds himself in the top two or three players in the world.
“His combination with Sturridge has flourished. The rest of the team is providing service behind them and they've all grown in quality and confidence.” – Sapa-AFP