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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 10 December, 2019

Rodgers has three games to save his job as Liverpool's season falls apart

The Anfield boss faces a season-defining winter period after crashing out of the Champions League on Tuesday.

Rodgers' side looked short on inspiration at times last night.
Rodgers' side looked short on inspiration at times last night.

THE ‘WEATHER BOMB’ is about hit the UK, and the storm clouds are beginning to hang over Brendan Rodgers after Liverpool’s disappointing Champions League exit at the hands of Basel.

Despite Steven Gerrard’s late heroics, Liverpool were unable to muster the win they needed to keep alive their European hopes, and a 1-1 draw sees them depart Europe’s premier competition before the adventure has really begun.

Rodgers beamed with pride over being the man to lead Liverpool back to Europe’s top table after a five-year absence, but he cannot be proud of how his side performed in Group B as they bowed out with a whimper.

When the draw was made back in August, Liverpool were expected to progress through to the knockout stages alongside holders Real Madrid. But the proof has been in the pudding, and the returning Merseyside club are some way behind Europe’s big guns.

One win from six games — a last-gasp victory over new boys Ludogorets at home – is a shocking statistic for Rodgers and his coaching staff to mull over as they look to rebuild their faltering season.

Rodgers blamed the officials after the game, feeling they got a number of big decisions wrong, including Lazar Markovic’s red card, but the facts show the Northern Irishman has nobody to blame but himself for an underwhelming European experience.

“We can’t have any excuses,” Rodgers said after the game. “We had enough games to try and get enough points but the key one was away to Basel, where we were disappointing and lost.

“If you deserve to go through you get the points. We really wanted to qualify but we weren’t good enough.

“But you have to remember where we have come from. We have come a long way in a short time.”

Rodgers knows he will come under scrutiny now after failing to build on the feel-good factor around the club after last season’s success, when they so nearly ended their 24-year wait for the Premier League title.

“When you don’t qualify, everyone gets looked at,” he said. “Across the board we have been looked at and analysed. For us the solution is simple; we have to be better in our performance level.”

Fingers will surely be pointed at Rodgers for selecting a defensive starting XI in what was a must-win game against Basel.

Starting Joe Allen and Lucas in midfield was a mistake as they lacked the pace and creativity to put Basel on the back foot and it was actually the Swiss champions who controlled the game, displaying all the attributes Rodgers wants to see in his teams, with their movement, passing and technique all superior to Liverpool.

Adam Lallana was left on the bench throughout, while Philippe Coutinho made a late cameo appearance and lone striker Rickie Lambert was brought off at half-time after toiling up front on his own for 45 minutes.

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Group B - Liverpool v Basel - Anfield Source: Mike Egerton

(A Steven Gerrard goal was not enough to rescue Liverpool last night)

It was not the first time Rodgers caused controversy in his team selection in the Champions League this season after resting most of his top stars for the trip to Real Madrid.

Liverpool’s fringe players appeared to run Madrid close before going down 1-0, but what might have been the result if Rodgers had decided to field his strongest line-up at the Bernabeu?

Hopes were high going into this season that Liverpool could build on the success of last term even without the talismanic Luis Suarez, but things have started to unravel.

The events of this term have suggested that for all the excitement and quality football, 2013-14 was merely a false dawn and, perhaps, a massive over-achievement for Liverpool and Rodgers. Players have failed to match the standards they set last season, while the summer signings have failed to impress.

The next three games could be the defining fixtures of Rodgers’ reign at Anfield. They could dictate Liverpool’s season.

The timing of a trip to arch-rivals Manchester United could not be any worse. Louis van Gaal’s side have won their last five matches to move clear of Liverpool in the race for the top four and the Old Trafford side would love nothing more than to add to the woes of their bitter rivals.

A tricky looking trip to high-flying Championship side Bournemouth in the quarter-finals of the League Cup follows. As it stands, the competition offers Rodgers his best chance of breaking his trophy drought at Liverpool.

The trio of games ends with the visit of Arsenal and Liverpool cannot afford to slip any further behind in the race for the top four after a disjointed Premier League campaign to date.

Rodgers will need all his man-management skills to lift his troops after their European exit and he will be hoping a result at Old Trafford could kick-start their season and prevent the campaign falling down around them before we even reach the New Year.

For now, Thursday trips and the Europa League beckon for Liverpool. What beckons for Rodgers in the long-term could be decided by the next three games, with festive goodwill currently in short supply among the Anfield faithful.

By Peter O’Rourke,

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TheScore Team

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