Sunday 26 January 2020

Rodgers' raw Reds fail to inspire hope for the future

There was no Liverpool red army marching on Moscow. It was more like the boy scouts succumbing to the mercenaries of Anzhi Makhachkala.

A solitary goal in first-half added- time by Lacina Traore left Brendan Rodgers sweating on qualifying for the knockout stages and the Liverpool manager will have no choice, but to replace the cadets with his generals for their remaining group games.

The result, the Reds' first away defeat in the group stage and only their third loss in 22 European matches, allowed the Russian club to assume pole position.

Anzhi may play 1,000 miles away from their home in Dagestan because of security issues, but they remain strong on Russian turf and made it five successive European home wins.

Anfield's fountains of youth were drizzled across the deserted Lokomotiv Stadium and by full-time they were awash with dejection.

It was a commendable effort by an inexperienced line-up, but having witnessed so many glorious European excursions, one could not help wonder how, and why, Liverpool have come to this.

So, bereft of numbers, they have had to experiment with 30 players in Europe, most from the club's kindergarten unit.

Rodgers added teenager Conor Coady and defender Jon Flanagan to the teenage roll call. All the youngsters acquitted themselves as well as could be expected, but the evening served only to underline how much more work needs to be done to replenish the squad.

The absence of Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Joe Allen ensured that Stewart Downing and Joe Cole had yet another opportunity to salvage what is left of their reputations after their performances in the League Cup. They did not succeed.

Cole bashing has become rather like giving a drowned kitten an extra soaking, but his 77 unconvincing minutes simply confirmed the fact he is a delicate financial negotiation away from leaving Anfield.

The former England international has invented a new position in a Liverpool shirt -- the 'false 10'. He was also one of several false nines prior to his exit here.


Indeed, this was a side picked for damage limitation and the strategy was working until the first minute of injury-time in the first half.

Jordan Henderson chased a one-on-one with Anzhi goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov on 23 minutes after Adam Morgan's through ball, but the midfielder chose to pass the ball across the goalmouth.

A tedious first half looked to be drifting to a monotonous conclusion for the visitors until Traore's clever flick embarrassed Sebastian Coates and he chipped the onrushing Brad Jones, who left his goal far too early.

The substitutions arrived, with Suso and Dani Pacheco replacing Morgan and Coady, and Suso forced Gabulov into his first meaningful action -- a save from 20 yards in the 77th minute.

By then, Anzhi were offering more attacking threat, with Samuel Eto'o, Anzhi's £330,000-a-week striker, ending a period of anonymity by testing Jones.

Afterwards, Rodgers insisted it was disrespectful to suggest his selection policy was wrong, insisting that a team which contained nine Englishmen and had an average age of just under 24, had performed well.

"Not at all. I think that is a little disrespectful to the players who are here," said the Northern Irishman, in relation to whether bringing Gerrard and the others would have made a difference.

"They have been magnificent and I thought they did really well and we just got punished for a mistake.

"That led to us losing the game but I don't think it was anything to do with Suarez, Gerrard, Allen, Skrtel or Agger not being here.

"It was just one of those things. We will take it as a team. We are disappointed but there are so many positives from tonight.

"Tactically our concentration was very good.

"We controlled the game for 44 minutes and 50 seconds of the first half. We made a bad mistake and got punished and that is the level.

"It was more of the same in the second half. We had chances and there is real disappointment in the changing room and I felt for the players. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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