Outrage On Rodgers’ Selection Real Embarrassment
A vicious storm brewed a few hours ahead of last night’s Champions League encounter between Real Madrid and Liverpool.
Rumours were circulating that Brendan Rodgers had planned to ‘rest’ a number of first team regulars against the reigning European champions. The eye of that storm passed directly overhead around ninety minutes before kick-off as the official elevens were announced. Indeed, the Reds’ coach ran right out into the tornado, dropping Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Mario Balotelli.
To say social media channels exploded would be an understatement. Twitter’s blood boiled and twisted as some journalists cried ‘surrender’ and fans at home called for refunds for the supporters who did travel, incredulous that this side had been picked for such a prestigious, important encounter.
Yet the combined cost of the Liverpool team who took to the field came to about £126 million, including nine full internationals and two top class U21 internationals.
One of the advantages of Suarez’s sale this year meant that Rodgers could pad out his squad with quality; quality he utilised properly last night. It was certainly no forfeit and it was most definitely not the David v Goliath match-up it was being made out to be beforehand in the faux-outrage.
What should also be considered is the fact that, whilst it was definitely a big occasion for all connected with the Merseyside outfit, it was not a must-win game. Progression through to the knock-out stages would depend on beating Basel and Ludogorets: both eminently possible; a lot would argue probable. Saturday’s clash with Chelsea, in the grander scheme of things, was far more important.
After a disappointing loss to Newcastle, during a run of particularly inconsistent form, three points and some semblance of a performance against Jose Mourinho’s marauding side was vital in keeping them in touch with the group leaders. If that meant resting some of their ‘better’ players then who are we to argue with Brendan Rodgers?
Of course, who’s to say, had the former Swansea coach played what most would argue was his strongest side, would they have got any better a result? These so-called ‘first team regulars’ were hardly in fine fettle. Steven Gerrard’s form has been pretty dire this season with his role in the side now under constant scrutiny. Philippe Coutinho’s performances have been inconsistent to say the least whilst Mario Balotelli’s absence is self-explanatory. Only Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling could count themselves unfortunate to have started in Madrid and even still, their replacements were superb – particularly Emre Can.
As the game progressed, it became clear that Rodgers had actually got his selection and tactics spot on. Obviously Real dominated – they would against most sides – but the pace and mobility of the Liverpool midfield and attack meant the defence could sit slightly deeper than their usual high line and counter on a Madrid side that will always give you a chance. With Gerrard benched in favour of a midfield three, it meant a higher intensity of pressing, getting round the pitch far quicker, protecting the back four far better.
They expectedly lost the game, of course. Real were hot favourites and did just about enough to seal maximum points but Rodgers and the players he picked all gave an excellent account of themselves at the home of the European champions and most in-form side on the continent, making a mockery of the narrative that the original selection was “an embarrassment”.
Had they opened up and “had a go”, they would have been slaughtered. Barcelona only two weeks ago, and Bayern in last season’s semi-final, know that to their costs. Imagine going into that Chelsea game on the end of a morale-shattering 5-0 or 6-0 defeat? It would have been far more catastrophic.
Brendan Rodgers has to take a large portion of the blame for mistakes this season but the outrage with regard to his decisions last night was embarrassing; especially so considering the heavy defeat predictions of those who screamed ‘disgrace’.