Both prior to and after the match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu last night there has been a lot of criticism and questioning of the team selection of Brendan Rodgers. This has come from most quarters with the media just fanning the flames of the already volatile social media market with incendiary comments and pieces criticising Rodgers.
I feel the need to defend Rodgers in this situation because one could argue this whole issue is just a media stunt which is trying to destabilise the club. If thought was applied by pundits such as Adrian Chiles or 5Live’s Alan Green, they would see that in reality the moves made by Rodgers were indeed the correct ones. Of course, the media are not there to promote rational thought, they are there to create a reaction of some kind, it appears to have worked.
The first point I would like to make is that Real Madrid are pretty good, in fact, one could quite easily say that they are the best team in Europe right now. The list of teams, who at this moment in time have the capacity to be able to field a side that could go toe to toe with Madrid at home, is very small. I will admit as a Liverpool fan myself, without the services of Daniel Sturridge, do not have a team that can cope with Madrid. This is not a negative against the Reds, just acknowledging the quality of Real Madrid.
Moreover, if Rodgers had selected a team which included those illustrious names that were left out, it could have easily been a repeat score from the game at Anfield. What people need to remember is that the game is played on the pitch, and not on the team sheet.
Tactically the selections made sense. Going in Liverpool knew they needed energy and drive in the team, because facing Madrid in their stadium, you know that you’re going to be chasing the ball for long periods. Now bringing in Borini for Balotelli definitely made sense on this front, one could argue that Rodgers should be starting with Borini more often, this is because his game is formed around his movement and run-making.
You know that with a midfield three of Lucas Leiva, Emre Can, and Joe Allen, that they are all going to ‘put a shift in’, which is what is needed to combat the passing/playmaking of Modric and Kroos. Playing Steven Gerrard in front of the back four would not have made sense because Ancelotti would have made sure his side targeted Gerrard and isolated him. I argue that in fact it was a positive move to drop Gerrard, rather than leave him at the mercy of Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, and Isco.
A further point on Gerrard. People seem to have forgotten that when Liverpool last had a season participating in the Champions League, all those years ago, Steven Gerrard’s body couldn’t handle the rigours and would get injured frequently. So the point about leaving players such as Gerrard, Sterling and Henderson, isn’t about the game against Chelsea on Saturday, it’s about making sure everyone is fit towards the end of the season and not burnout due to over-exertion.
Outside of the physical drive, what the Liverpool team has lacked recently is mental stamina, which is most evident in their defending. Liverpool have been prone to mental collapse once they have conceded and tend to start making rash decisions. This begins with Dejan Lovren who is simply not performing well enough currently. When Liverpool hosted Dortmund in their final pre-season friendly, and had a comprehensive 4-0 victory, Lovren looked a elite level centre back. But his performances since have fallen well short of the mark. Bringing in Kolo Touré was a great move, he has charisma that keeps him and the rest of the defence up for a whole game. Let us remember that Touré played a major role in ‘The Invincibles’’ season. They kept Ronaldo off of the scoresheet, which is rare this season, seeing as he had scored 22 goals in 15 matches prior to last night.
To a point raised by the television pundits on ITV, and elsewhere no doubt, in which the claimed that Liverpool’s travelling fans would have expected to see the likes of Steven Gerrard playing. What they fail to realise in bringing this up is that the majority, if not all Liverpool fans who travelled to the game last night, are experienced campaigners who know the ins and outs of the club’s squad. What they would have wanted is a result more than anything, and Rodgers set out a team which he believed had the greater chance of this, and I agree with him
The bottom line is that Liverpool have not been performing this season so there is no set ‘first team’ because of this. The reason that players like Emre Can, Adam Lallana, and Lazar Markovic were brought in was to expand the number of players in the squad who are capable of playing in this level of match. So those of you calling the team a ‘league cup side’ is simply being disrespectful to those players brought in. The players showed that with their performances that they deserve further chances of starting games. Yes the match was lost, it happens, but I cannot see how with bringing in all of those players who were rested would have significantly reduced the chances of losing.
In making the team selection he did last night, Brendan Rodgers performed his role as a manager, which he is employed to do. The team lost against Real Madrid in Madrid. This is not a shock, given the comparative levels of the two teams currently. What is shocking is the unfair, uninformed, and unnecessary bashing of Rodgers. He has not done anything wrong here so people just need to walk on and stop reacting to a non-story.