Saturday 18 November 2017

Rodgers: It'll be tough but we'll handle Euro games

Crystal Palace 1 Liverpool 2

Liverpool's Adam Lallana celebrates scoring the winning goal with team-mate Martin Skrtel
Liverpool's Adam Lallana celebrates scoring the winning goal with team-mate Martin Skrtel
Crystal Palace's Fraizer Campbell celebrates scoring the opening goal with Dwight Gayle and Marouane Chamakh
Palace defender Joel Ward puts his arm on Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli
Liverpool's Adam Lallana on the ball during the FA Cup fifth round match at Selhurst Park
Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring Liverpool's equalising goal

Jonathan Liew

The big news to come out of Liverpool last week - off the field, at least - was the release of a television ad for the club's new official men's underarm spray partner, featuring Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Simon Mignolet.

A rather surreal press launch was held at Anfield in which the room was filled not with weathered Merseyside writers, but beauty columnists and London magazine correspondents.

The advert itself is fairly typical, with players late for some red-carpet function, dashing across town in a fan's three-wheeled car, making it with seconds to spare and a remarkable absence of sweat patches.

More important than the advert itself, though, was what it represents for this Liverpool side - a certain coming of age, an infiltration of the mainstream, a transition from footballing asset to cultural emblem.

Put it this way, the last advert Henderson starred in was a cringe-making effort for his local dental practice in Sunderland that you can still view in all its washed-out glory on YouTube. (Sample line: "It's a really good dentist. I'm glad I can come here.")

A leap forward, then, and in more senses than one. Just as Liverpool's beefed-up commercial department is beginning to mine the financial potential of the club's spectacular return to the big time last season, the team itself finally appears to have worked out, after an abortive and frustrating half year, how to build on their success of last season.

Having gone out of the FA Cup a little unluckily at Arsenal on this weekend a year ago, Liverpool were able to lick their wounds and concentrate on the one competition open to them.

They duly reeled off nine successive Premier League victories that would have brought a first title in 24 years, but for unexpected stumbles just before the finishing line when encountering Chelsea and Crystal Palace.

Coming through Saturday's fifth-round tie at Selhurst Park in impressive style confirmed that the Palace bogey dating back to the 1990 semi-final has been banished and spring, again, offers exciting possibilities.

Now, however, Brendan Rodgers' team are fighting on three fronts and need to prove they have the resilience to contest two cups and challenge for a top-four place.

This week they receive Besiktas and last season's nemesis, Demba Ba, in the Europa League, reverting to the Thursday-Sunday routine that has often derailed teams in the past, but with the incentive the winners qualify for next season's Champions League.

CATCH-UP

"There is no doubt you're always playing catch-up," Rodgers admitted. "It can be tough. But it's a European competition, so it's a very prestigious tournament. We have a tough game with Besiktas, but we'll be ready for them."

Steven Gerrard, alas, will not be, although one or both of Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe will be available to add some of the burning pace that was the one thing missing on Saturday.

The hope is that an enforced rest following last week's hamstring strain may prove beneficial to the Liverpool captain as he gears up for what could be a memorable end to his Anfield career - a finale with a final or two, as the climaxes to the Europa League and FA Cup are in the same week at the end of May.

Daniel Sturridge is returning to full fitness and an additional bonus over the past week has been a reminder of Mario Balotelli's qualities, which offered a sharpened threat in the final third in the second half as Daniel Sturridge's volley and Adam Lallana's rebound from a Balotelli free-kick overturned Fraizer Campbell's early goal.

It is a measure of the increased depth Rodgers feels is available to him.

Even a year ago, there is little doubt that Liverpool would not have had the numbers to mount any sort of challenge on three fronts.

Rodgers feels that he has made big strides in his three seasons at Anfield.

But unless you count individual awards and the prestigious Championship Play-Off Trophy in 2011, he is still waiting for his first major silverware.

Like his immaculately groomed squad, perhaps Rodgers is finally ready to take the next step. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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