Pressure mounts on Reds
Struggling Liverpool need to find some form to down brave Bulgarian side
BRENDAN Rodgers faces arguably the biggest challenge of his career as Liverpool manager when he takes his ailing side to Bulgaria to face Ludogorets Razgrad in the Champions League today.
Anything less than victory is likely to spell the end of the fivetime European champions’ hopes of qualifying for the last 16 of the continent’s elite club football competition, barring a freakish set of other results.
Liverpool, runners-up in the Premier League last season, have struggled badly since the departure of star striker Luis Suarez, now at Spanish giants Barcelona.
And their season hit a new low on Sunday as they suffered a 3-1 loss away to Crystal Palace – Liverpool’s fourth straight defeat in all competitions – despite former Southampton striker Rickie Lambert giving them the lead with his first goal for the club.
This latest setback left Liverpool 18 points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea and closer to the relegation zone than the Champions League places.
“I’m not arrogant enough to think I will be in the job through anything. Any manager will tell you they have to win games,” Rodgers said.
“Ultimately you have to get results ... I can only do my best and fight even harder and take responsibility,” the Northern Irish manager added.
“Any pressure now comes on to me. It’s my responsibility as a manager to pick the best team that I think can win the game.”
New signings such as Mario Balotelli and Dejan Lovren have yet to impress and Rodgers accepted Liverpool fans would not put up with the argument that his team had to get to know one another for much longer, nor with their vulnerability to the counter-attack.
“We need to find a solution quickly because this is very disappointing, and we have no-one but ourselves to blame,” said Rodgers.
“We had to make changes in the summer and are near enough entering a transition phase.
“But whatever phase, we have to be better than that.”
Ludogorets, in their first sea- son in the Champions League, are only behind Liverpool at the bottom of Group B on goal difference, with both sides having taken three points from their opening four matches. When the teams met at Anfield in September, it needed a stoppage-time penalty from Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard to secure a 2-1 win against Ludogorets – only founded in 2001 and playing their first competitive fixture in England – after Dani Alabo had cancelled out Mario Balotelli’s 82ndminute opener for the hosts.
Ludogorets were well beaten, 4-0 away to Swiss club Basel, in their last Group B match, but that result came after they had pushed Real Madrid close in a 2-1 defeat by the reigning European champions.
And it is the style of the performance against the Spanish giants that Ludogorets manager Georgi Dermendzhiev will want to see replicated by his side today.
“We played bravely, with courage and with no fear against the reigning European champions,” he said. “We played as equals to Real ... It is football, everything could happen.”
Courage and a lack of fear are equally the qualities Liverpool will need to demonstrate against Dermendzhiev’s men today.