Fielding a team short of several regular starters is not a normal decision taken by many football managers when faced with an away group tie in the Champions League against Real Madrid but Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers will hope that his gamble is justified by eventual qualification for the knockout phase. The 1-0 defeat on Tuesday evening was an improvement on the 3-0 loss to the Spanish team at Anfield just two weeks previously, but the Reds do face two difficult games before they can be assured of further progression in the competition.
Captain Steven Gerrrard, Mario Balotelli and Raheem Sterling were named on the substitute’s bench for the match at the Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid for Liverpool’s fourth match in Champions League Group B and the those players selected were instructed to pressurise the opposition and deny them space around the penalty area. The tactic worked for the majority of the game with the prolific Cristiano Ronaldo unable to score a goal, but Liverpool rarely threatened the Madrid goal.
Liverpool are now placed third in Group B with just three points after suffering three defeats but now face an away tie at Ludogorets Razgrad before a key home match against FC Basel which will probably decide the team which finishes second in the group. The Reds earlier lost 1-0 to the Swiss team and were indebted to a late Gerrard penalty for claiming a 2-1 home success against the Bulgarian team. Neither tie will be easy.
For Rodgers, the gamble in selecting a weakened team for the Real Madrid away match could be justified in view of the slim chances of obtaining a result against one the Champions League ante-post favourites and it offered fringe players the opportunity to justify their worth in a difficult environment.
Whether the Liverpool supporters, who embarked upon the journey to Madrid to watch their team, were in agreement with the team selection is open to question but Rodgers may also have viewed the forthcoming Premier League fixture with leaders Chelsea as a more important match.
The two teams clash at the weekend and qualifying for next season’s Champions League and the revenues generated from such a venture is an essential goal for Liverpool football club. Having already lost four Premier League games to date, avoiding another defeat is paramount and a victory against the league leaders would allow the Reds to maintain contact with the top teams in the table.
It would appear that financial considerations may be taking precedence over the need to win all games on the pitch and qualifying for the next phase of the Champions League might be of secondary importance to actually participating in next season’s competition.
Would the successful Liverpool team of the 1970’s and 80’s have agreed with such logic?