BRENDAN Rodgers is considering resting Steven Gerrard for Liverpoolâ€™s game at Real Madrid on Tuesday night after admitting that he regards Saturdayâ€™s match at home to Chelsea as more important than the Champions League clash.
Liverpool are engaged in a three-way fight for second place in Group B, having lost at home to Real and away to Basel, but Rodgers would prefer a top-four Premier League finish to progress in Europeâ€™s elite club competition. His team are three points behind fourth-placed Arsenal after a disappointing start to the season.
Gerrard has been omitted only for Capital One Cup matches this season and it would send a strong signal to start with the captain, who has more European experience than anyone else in the squad, on the bench for what will be regarded by Liverpool fans as one of the campaignâ€™s most glamorous matches. Rodgers indicated that there could be more than one change to his team at the BernabÃ©u.
â€œI donâ€™t see it as a gamble,â€ the manager said. â€œThis week and these games against the likes of Real Madrid I see as a great opportunity for the squad â€“ you put them out there and you put your trust in them to perform.
â€œIn Stevenâ€™s case, if he is playing on Saturday I have to look at what is the priority for him and us. If he played against Newcastle and didnâ€™t play tomorrow night you could say that was the priority.
â€œHim and I have spoken about that. Three big games, Newcastle, Madrid and then Chelsea. I need to look at a number of players to look at the games we want them to play in. But I have also got to look at [the fact] we brought in other players. And there is responsibility. But there is no doubt that our priorities are the Premier League and the Champions League, and always in that order.â€
The summer signings Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana, neither of whom featured in Saturdayâ€™s defeat at Newcastle, may start at the BernabÃ©u, where Raheem Sterling could also be rested. Real beat Liverpool 3-0 at Anfield last month and the Group B standings mean that, although avoiding defeat in Madrid would help Liverpoolâ€™s cause, their fate hinges more significantly on the matches to follow against Basel and Ludogorets.
â€œIf we want to develop we need to ensure we are in the top four but we also want to qualify from this group and we will never know if these players can perform if we donâ€™t put them in the team,â€ Rodgers said. â€œI am putting my faith in these players to perform. That is not being pragmatic. It is why you have a squad to come and get results. I see that we have spent an awful lot of money on players to come in and give them an opportunity to perform.â€
Rodgers believes Liverpool must overcome the finest player and team in world football in Cristiano Ronaldo and Real but insisted the time for â€œwhining and moaningâ€ about his sideâ€™s malaise was over.
Liverpoolâ€™s defeat at St Jamesâ€™ Park was their sixth in all competitions this season. By contrast, the European champions recorded their 11th successive victory with Saturdayâ€™s 4-0 win over Granada, sit at the summit of La Liga and have Gareth Bale available after injury.
Not even the presence of Daniel Sturridge on Liverpoolâ€™s flight to Spain on Monday translated into a cause for optimism, with Rodgers claiming the injury-plagued striker travelled as a show of unity within the squad and not in anticipation of facing Real. Yet despite Liverpoolâ€™s well-documented difficulties in dealing with the loss of Luis SuÃ¡rez and integrating several new players, including Mario Balotelli, the manager insists there will be no excuses for failing to rise to the occasion in Madrid.
Rodgers said: â€œIt will take time [for new players] unfortunately, purely because of their ages and the adaptation needed, but I donâ€™t want to keep talking about giving players time. Youâ€™ve got to focus on performance.
â€œThere are many reasons why we are not at the level of the last 18 months but weâ€™ve got to forget about whining and moaning and complaining and find the best way to get the intensity back in our game. When we get the intensity back in our pressing and passing I think we are a very good team.â€
He added: â€œThis is an opportunity as opposed to any threat. We are still very much in the hunt to qualify from the group. Real are arguably the best team in the world but we know we have some outstanding players and if we can find the intensity in our game of the last 18 months we can challenge anyone.â€
Sturridge has not featured since August because of thigh and calf injuries but Rodgers cooled suggestions the England international could play, albeit not categorically. He said: â€œIâ€™ve brought every player out to this game. It is a sign we are very much together. Everyone has travelled whether fit or injured. It is highly unlikely heâ€™ll be fit.â€
Ronaldo opened the scoring in Realâ€™s comfortable 3-0 win at Anfield and registered his 17th league goal of the season against Granada, breaking a 79-year record for the most goals scored in the first 10 games of a Spanish league campaign in the process. The 29-year-old is also one goal away from equalling RaÃºlâ€™s tally of 71 goals in the Champions League but Rodgers admits Liverpool cannot be preoccupied with halting their former Manchester United adversary.
â€œWe are also up against a very good team,â€ he said. â€œCristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world at this moment in time. He has impressed now for a number of years and is playing with great confidence but heâ€™d say himself it is about the team. Real have got some outstanding players â€“ Benzema, Isco, Kroos, Modric and others. It is a team effort but certainly he is the catalyst and someone who loves his football.â€
Ancelotti, the Real coach, said Ronaldoâ€™s current form gives the European Cup holders an advantage entering every game but insists the Portugal international will not put the individual goalscoring record before the teamâ€™s requirements. â€œHe is working hard for himself and the side, just like other players,â€ said the manager. â€œI donâ€™t think heâ€™s thinking about the record, he has time â€“ itâ€™s not his last game. He is focused on playing for the team.â€ – The Guardian