Sunday 25 February 2018

Rodgers challenges second string to seize chance

Carl Markham

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has challenged his fringe players to prove they are worthy of a place in his first-choice side.

The Reds boss has travelled with a weakened squad to Moscow, having left behind stars like Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Joe Allen, Raheem Sterling and Nuri Sahin.

It means many of the side who struggled in last week's League Cup defeat at home to Swansea will be asked to improve their performances against Anzhi Makhachkala in the Europa League this afternoon.

Included in the travelling party are the likes of Joe Cole, who came in for particular criticism after a desperately disappointing 45 minutes, and Stewart Downing.

Rodgers denied that those players needed to redeem themselves against a side second in the Russian league but he is looking for some of them to show they can make a difference.

"I knew the cup game (against Swansea) was always going to be difficult," he said. "But I've said to the players the biggest thing we look for is that their focus and concentration is right.

"Everyone wants to play in the Premier League but this is a real opportunity to shine and show you can get into that team. We have already seen that this season Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom all started in the cup competitions and they are now regulars playing in the Premier League team.

"Every game is a platform. There is a great motivation there for the players."

Rodgers defended the strength of the side he could put out at the Lokomotiv Stadium -- UEFA will not allow Anzhi to play in their troubled home region of Dagestan.

"It is not a secondary team," he said. "It is a team in order to a) win the game and b) give players an opportunity to play where they want to play. There is certainly no lack of respect for Anzhi.

"We have a squad here that we feel can get a result."

Midfielder Jordan Henderson (left), who is likely to get a run-out after finding himself on the fringes this season, is prepared to be patient in his determination to prove he is not a big-money flop at Anfield.

"I want my future to be at Liverpool so I'll give everything every day to make sure that happens," he said. "It is hard. It is not easy to think long-term, especially when I've played a lot of games in the Premier League considering my age.

"Now I'm 22 and I'm not playing as regularly as I would like to but, then again, I have got to take on board what the people are saying around me to try to improve myself as a player."

Anzhi Makhachkala v Liverpool,

Live, 3e/ITV4, 5.0

Irish Independent

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