Sofia: Under-fire Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard may not be enjoying his best spell of form but he is still "a top class player", manager Brendan Rodgers said ahead of their Champions League clash with Ludogorets.
The 34-year-old midfielder has come in for particular criticism this season, with fans questioning whether it is time for him to be dropped as a regular starter.
"People expect Steven to be the type of player he was 10 or 12 years ago," Rodgers told a news conference at the Vasil Levski national stadium on Tuesday. "The player who scored 15 a season and made 13 or 14 assists.
"But sadly that`s not the case. It`s hugely unfair he gets judged on that level.
"I can safely say he`s the best player I`ve ever worked with. His mentality, commitment and loyalty he`s shown to the football club have been incredible.
"It`s easy to manage him because he`s a top class professional. He always accepts what`s best for Liverpool."
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher this week added his voice to those calling for Gerrard not to be deployed as a defensive midfielder, saying he has the ability to inject the team`s flagging attack with some much-needed inspiration.
"Of course he`s coming to the latter part of his career but he still has a big contribution to make for me," Rodgers added.
"He can play three games a week but not to the level he would like or I would like so it`s up to me to manage that."
Liverpool striker Rickie Lambert, who is expected to start against Ludogorets with Mario Balotelli failing to recover from a groin injury, described criticism of Gerrard as "shocking", saying "it`s up to other players to stand up".
Five-times European champions Liverpool, who have been beaten and failed to score in their last three games in Group B, are battling to stay alive.
The Merseysiders are third with three points from four matches, three behind FC Basel, with holders Real Madrid the runaway leaders with 12 points.
"Sometimes it just takes a game, an action to change a season for you," said Rodgers. "We have to believe that can happen. We haven`t been anywhere near our levels. But you can never give up."