“So, how many goals will you concede tonight?” That was the first question a friend of mine, a football fanatic, asked on Tuesday morning. For once I did not have a witty retort or even one that was borderline abusive to the club he supported, “As long as we don’t concede more than 3, I would consider us to be lucky”.
This was the situation that had been put upon most Liverpool supporters before the match against Real Madrid. Real Madrid had brushed aside the Liverpool team a couple of weeks earlier by winning 3-0 at Anfield without ever moving out of 2nd gear. They were rarely threatened by the likes of Balotelli, Sterling and Gerrard and were without Gareth Bale in the starting line-up. This time, the Welsh wizard was to play a part, at least he was declared fit for the game. Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored a beautiful goal in the reverse fixture was looking to break the all-time UEFA Champions League scoring record held by Raul, not many would have doubted him breaking that.
The line-up –
The announcement of the Liverpool line-up suddenly created a twitter frenzy, Emre Can, Lucas, Kolo Toure, Fabio Borini, Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic? No Sterling, Gerrard, Lovren, Johnson or Balotelli? People were baffled by the choice and it was only a matter of time before the blame started. People expected Rodgers to name the strongest team to face Real Madrid but what he did was name nothing more than a team of fringe players.
Only Simon Mignolet, Martin Skrtel and Alberto Moreno could be considered as regular first teamers while the rest were barely regulars in this Liverpool team. “This is going to be a pasting, an absolute hammering” is the first thought that come into my head.
Fortunately it was nowhere near a pasting, sure it was not like Liverpool were attacking the game, their first chance on goal came in the 55th minute, they were content to sit back and absorb. Real Madrid did score, eventually thanks to Karim Benzema and did hit the bar when Gareth Bale came on. Ronaldo was not as big a menace as he was at Anfield and was marshaled very well by Kolo Toure and Liverpool escaped Madrid with a creditable performance which would be a boost to the fringe players and a warning to the “regulars” who expect to start no matter how they perform.
The Rodgers plan –
There have been complaints that Rodgers has insulted the tournament by fielding a League Cup side and that the Liverpool fans deserve better than this but football isn’t all about romance, it is also about making pragmatic and tough decisions.
Would Liverpool have actually won the game had they gone with their first team? Would they have had a better chance of winning the game against Chelsea at the weekend had they gone with their first team?
Think long and hard about those two questions, Liverpool have not played well at all this season. They have lost the dynamic starts they had to games in the last season. They have not replaced the goals of Luis Suarez and with Daniel Sturridge injured they are missing 50 goals which were scored last season. Players like Dejan Lovren, Mario Balotelli, Glen Johnson, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling are not playing on the same level as they have done earlier.
Was it really that bad a choice by Rodgers to give his fringe players the chance to prove their worth against arguably the best side in Europe? If anything Liverpool’s reputation is still intact, losing 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu against a team consisting of Ronaldo, Kroos, Modric, James Rodriguez and Benzema is nothing to be ashamed off and the performance was not the worst Liverpool performance of the season.
In fact, this might have been the best performance from the team. Fabio Borini was a tireless runner in the role of the solitary striker, Emre Can, Joe Allen and Lucas looked like they have been playing for years together and surprisingly Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel did a brilliant job together. Simon Mignolet, who has been a big target for most critics, was at his best between the sticks.
The introduction of Coutinho, Gerrard and Sterling at the 70th minute signalled intent to maybe get a point out of the game but that was not achieved. Sure it wasn’t the prettiest Liverpool performance but it got the desired result, confidence to the young players, a warning to the senior figures and half a chance of doing something and getting a result against Chelsea during the weekend.
Picture courtesy: The Guardian