Sport Soccer

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Hodgson looking for fringe benefits against Steaua

Jamie Holland

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson insists players are not playing for their futures in tonight's Europa League tie against Steaua Bucharest.

A number of fringe squad members are set to get a run-out as a depleted party travelled to Romania.

Injuries have ruled out Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger, while Hodgson has opted to rest Fernando Torres, Maxi Rodriguez, Raul Meireles, Glen Johnson and Paul Konchesky.

It gives the likes of Ryan Babel, who is linked with a move in every transfer window, and Milan Jovanovic, who is still followed by rumours of a return to Standard Liege after just four months at Anfield, a chance to impress.

Reserve team youngsters Dani Pacheco, Nathan Eccleston, Danny Wilson, Jack Robinson and John Flanagan have also been included in the squad.

But Hodgson stressed that it would be unjust to judge individuals on their performances tonight and in the final group game in a fortnight's time, because so many of the club's first-choice stars were absent.

"It would be too much to ask. I don't think it would be fair," he said. "I think if you are going to be judged in that way you need to be playing with a large number of the more established players.

"I don't think it is correct to judge people too much when many of them are playing together and are obviously fairly inexperienced at this level.

"I wouldn't want to say they are playing for their long-term futures but I think they have a great opportunity to show me that what I am seeing in training they are able to be produce on the field in important matches when push comes to shove.

"I am interested to see some of the players who are, if not making their debuts, at least playing one of very few games that they have had for the club during my time here. I think they gain an enormous amount because we are playing against a top-quality team.

"In these games, especially the away games, it is important to have a look at some of the younger players who have been working hard day after day at Melwood and not really had too much of a look in when it comes to playing in the first team.

"In the couple of games so far, away at Utrecht and Napoli, they have not let me, the club or the fans down and I hope they will continue to do that in another difficult game."

Hodgson is confident, however, that his players -- especially the younger ones -- are good enough to get a result in Romania. And he hopes it will begin to give them enough of a grounding for them to be able to progress into the first team on a regular basis.

Hodgson confirmed that goalkeeper Jose Reina will lead the side out in the absence of both Gerrard -- who is hoping to return a week on Saturday against Newcastle -- and Carragher.

Liverpool are unbeaten in the Europa League after four games and know that a win in Bucharest will ensure that they win Group K, thereby guaranteeing their seeding for the round of 32.

They can even win the group tonight without beating Bucharest, providing they draw and Utrecht do not beat Napoli. Mere qualification is just one point away.

Agger's future, meanwhile, has been cast into doubt amid suggestions Bayer Leverkusen are one of a number of Bundesliga sides confident they can land the Danish international in January. Agger has failed to earn a regular place under Hodgson and it is believed Liverpool may be willing to listen to offers.

Liverpool (probable, 4-4-2) -- Reina; Kelly, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Wilson; Cole, Lucas, Poulsen, Jovanovic; Babel, N'Gog.

Steaua Bucharest v Liverpool,

Live, 3e & ESPN, 6.0

Irish Independent

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