Liverpool ready to hit peak form, says Rodgers

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Newcastle (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes his players are finally starting to gel on the pitch ahead of their Premier League clash with Newcastle at St James's Park on Saturday.

The Reds have yet to convince in the early part of the campaign following the addition of several new players after selling Uruguay forward Luis Suarez to Barcelona.

Liverpool, who were runners-up to Manchester City last season, are nine points behind leaders Chelsea in seventh place in the table after nine games.

But Rodgers claims he has seen signs in recent matches that his side is taking shape and performances will improve as a result.

"The players that are available are working very, very hard and we're still learning about each other," he said.

"I think that sometimes goes amiss -- you get new players in and with not as much preparation time, you're learning about them in games.

"I can see each day the relationship growing within the players and the connection.

"That's what we've been trying to do and gradually as each day goes by, I sense and feel we are getting better.

"Rickie Lambert, who hasn't had many opportunities, his goals will come. He's working tirelessly every day and had some nice touches against Swansea the other night.

"Young Lazar Markovic playing on the left hasn't featured so much, but we brought him in for the longer term. He'll get games in this period because we've got confidence he'll be a big player for us.

"Those players will get a chance and hopefully they can take that chance."

- Controversial Balotelli -

Rodgers also claims he does not have to shield Mario Balotelli from players in opposition teams who try to wind him up during games.

The Italy striker, who is set to start against Newcastle, had a confrontation with Swansea midfielder Jonjo Shelvey during their League Cup clash in the week.

"I don't have to protect Mario," Rodgers said. "He's fine. There's no concern."

Liverpool will be without striker Daniel Sturridge who is still recovering from a calf problem that is also likely to force him to miss their trip to Real Madrid in the Champions League and next weekend's clash with Chelsea at Anfield.

Defenders Jose Enrique (knee), Mamadou Sakho (hip) and Jon Flanagan (knee) are all absent along with midfield playmaker Suso (groin).

Meanwhile, Newcastle approach the game with their confidence restored after three successive victories that have tempered the criticism of their manager Alan Pardew.

Pardew looked certain to be dismissed only a month ago, but an impressive sequence of results in October have made his position secure, at least for the time being -- although the 53-year-old seems reluctant to take credit for the transformation.

"I don't think it's that important, if I'm honest," he said.

"What is important is that we're winning games again and that's what the fans want to see.

"I think we have a group that could excite them this year. There is a lot of pace in the squad and it's about getting it on the pitch and using it in the right manner, which we are doing at the moment.

"It's a nice transitional period for us. We have had a couple of very good teams here in my time, but last year it kind of fell away for us and we are trying to build a new side.

"It takes time to bed in, but we are starting to find our feet."

Pardew will give a fitness test to striker Papiss Cisse (knee)and midfielder Cheick Tiote (shin), while defender Davide Santon (knee) and midfielder Siem de Jong (thigh) are still some way short of a return.