Real Madrid inflicted the second defeat in as many weeks on Liverpool on Tuesday night as Karim Benzema’s first half goal was enough to separate the sides at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Liverpool did not disgrace themselves during the game but the match itself was clouded by Brendan Rodgers’ decision to rest a number of his regular first-team starters. The likes of Steven Gerrard, Mario Balotelli, Phillipe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson were left out of the starting line-up. Was he right to do this or was it a misjudgement on his behalf?
When you are playing away at the raining European Champions, against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, the best player in the World currently, you would prefer to play with your best side otherwise defeat is almost a certainty. Rodgers obviously felt that this was not the case.
Lack of respect?
However, many critics will argue that the Liverpool boss devalued the competition, showed no respect for the opposition and ultimately let down the huge following that had made the trip over from Merseyside to watch their beloved team compete against possibly the best club side in the World, on one of the grandest stages of all. It could also be argued that he let down his own football club who are highly regarded throughout Europe and the World.
The argument about the fans is perhaps the most legitimate. Liverpool supporters, like many all over the World, work hard all year to pay to watch their side compete in matches. They do not put all the time and effort in to watch their side field a weakened team.
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If it was the Capital One Cup then it is expected, as many of the big clubs do field a second-string, but this has been common practice for some time now so supporters know what the deal is and have a choice whether to go to the match or not. It is important to keep the fans on side as they are normally the deciding factor as to whether a manager loses his job or not.
A Real Madrid-Liverpool European tie on a Tuesday night under floodlights should be one of the highlights of the footballing year. Instead it felt more like a damp squid.
Social media outrage
Rodgers has come under fire from all corners of the footballing world particularly on social media where the reaction is arguably the most fiercest and passionate due to the instant, reactive nature of it. Some have questioned whether he should still be in charge of this great football club whilst others have backed his judgement.
Rodgers will counter any argument by pointing out that his side contained a number of full internationals so were perfectly capable of matching any opposition. In fact during the game they did grow in stature and, although they didn’t threaten to score very often they did prevent Madrid’s star players from running away with the match. However, if it wasn’t for Simon Mignolet, particularly in the early stages of the game, we could have been looking at an embarrassing result.
Rodgers was probably, quite understandably, trying to protect his side as they, like most participants in European club competitions, face a hectic schedule. Rodgers knows that he needs to look after his squad and rest players where possible particularly if they are to develop and continue to push for honours on all fronts. He also needs to ensure that all his squad have played competitive football because when injuries strike, as they will, he will not want to be bringing players in from the cold.
They face the daunting task of Chelsea at the weekend and Rodgers probably had an eye on that when he made his team selection in Madrid. Their form has been poor recently and they will want to arrest their slide as the competition for the top four Premier League spots is hotter than ever.
In my opinion Rodgers made the wrong decision, but he did do it for the right reasons, for Liverpool Football Club, so in that respect he must be admired. He is a strong-minded person with a will to succeed at Liverpool but he will need to increasingly justify decisions like this during his career but I am not convinced he did that last night.
If Liverpool beat Chelsea on Saturday then perhaps the criticisms will go away, but that is a big ask for a side on a poor run of form, even with their star players returning.