Pres­sure mounts on Reds

Strug­gling Liver­pool need to find some form to down brave Bul­gar­ian side

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

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.

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