Rodgers Gets It Wrong As Reds Blow Champions League Chance

Liverpool FC v FC Basel 1893 - UEFA Champions League

Not even a stirring Anfield evening could save them from elimination. Nor could a patented moment of magic from Steven Gerrard at the Kop end on a brisk European night. Not this season, not this Liverpool team.

The Reds crashed out of the Champions League after failing to beat FC Basel, and while the famous old ground stirred with a vintage aura for the 10 minutes following the captain’s sensational free-kick, the brief intensity, cohesion and ingenuity that was showcased was a mere aberration in what’s been a timid European effort from the Merseysiders.

After all, Liverpool only won one of their games in what looked to be a relatively straightforward group. The might of Real Madrid obviously aside, the Reds should have had more than enough to better Basel and Champions League novices Ludogorets Razgrad. But they could muster four points from the five games prior to the Basel showdown, the only triumph coming courtesy of a last gasp penalty against the Bulgarian minnows.

And yet, the final match of the group stage afforded Brendan Rodgers’ team a lifeline. A chance to qualify for the knockout stages, a chance to inject some major impetus into their stuttering campaign and a chance to give the club’s supporters something to look forward to in the new year as a jam-packed festive period fast approaches.

But the Liverpool boss got it badly wrong on the night. With the Anfield crowd poised to raucously back their team and with nothing but a win sufficient, the Reds needed to attack the visitors. And while Rodgers professed patience would be vital in the pre-match press conference, it was cowardice and caution that was on show at Anfield from those in red.

The intricate skills of Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana—arguably the most impressive of the club’s summer acquisitions—were left to stew on the bench, leaving Raheem Sterling as the only effervescent spark in what was a determined, dogged but obtuse midfield. Subsequently, the Reds looked all too familiarly dull in their forward forays.

The 20-year-old winger aside, there was no incisiveness no Liverpool’s play. No ingenuity with the ball at their feet, no drop of the shoulder or piece of skill to breeze by an opponent, no risks taken in possession. The home side and the home crowd were nullified, Basel were buoyed and from a very early stage it was wholly apparent this was going to be a difficult task for the Reds.

Of course, this is all very easy to proclaim in hindsight. But there is little doubt that this was a selection resemblant of a manager who is under increasing pressure. If there was ever a time for his team to fly out of the blocks with an attacking vigor comparable to last season, it was in this must-win game in front of a boisterous Anfield.

It was also a selection of a boss that’s managing in European football’s top tier competition for the very first time in career. And although his captain himself admitted himself that their performances have simply not been up to scratch in the tournament, the Champions League is a harsh learning experience for players and managers alike.

The groundwork laid by Rodgers in the summer was clearly with the long-term in mind. The players drafted in may not be of the very top calibre, but the majority of Luis Suarez’s transfer fee was spent on players that are young, undeniably talented and have the potential to blossom into fine players. That’s why the “Rodgers Out” brigade are a little harsh in their consensus, and why the manager should be afforded the requisite time to learn and develop alongside a host of the capricious young players drafted in.

Nonetheless, the coming weeks are going to be a major test of Rodgers’ credentials. The Northern Irishman was lavished with praise during the club’s eventually ill-fated title tilt last season, but it’s during these kinds of predicaments that you earn your stripes as a manager.

And what an opportunity he has to put things right, as Liverpool face Manchester United at Old Trafford next up in the Premier League on Sunday (live on NBCSN at 8:30am ET, for viewers in the United States). A win at the home of their arch rivals has all the makings of a cornerstone moment for the rest of the campaign; a defeat would surely add further clout to the claims of the growing numbers of Reds that want the former Swansea City boss axed.

But there’s still an unrelenting sense that the Reds should have been bouncing into this game after an impassioned European display. Rodgers and his players had a massive chance to accrue some priceless momentum from the game with Basel, but having erred on the side of caution—an undesirable facet that’s creeped into Rodgers’ managerial make-up as of late—it’s an opportunity that has passed Liverpool by.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

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  1. Gary December 10, 2014
  2. Jeff December 10, 2014

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