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Brendan Rodgers’ Reds selection fails to pay off in Madrid

Liverpool are still odds-on with Coral at 5/6 to qualify from Group B, despite having lost two matches on the spin to Real Madrid, which leaves them third in the group on just three points.

An aggregate defeat of 4-0 over two games to the reigning champions left Brendan Rodgers in contemplation. In the match at the Bernabeu, they succumbed to a solitary strike. It was Karim Benzema’s third against the Reds; though, by 90 minutes the press, fans and even Rodgers himself were left questioning whether he had done the right thing starting Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Mario Balotelli on the bench.

However, the Northern Irishman responded emphatically: “I didn’t see this as a big showcase game where I had to play the so-called names. It might have seemed a gamble but for me it wasn’t.”

Revered ex-England star and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, had his say on social media site Twitter: “Rodgers has left out [Jordan] Henderson, Sterling, Balotelli, Gerrard and Coutinho at Real Madrid. He has, though, thrown in a white towel.

“Selecting a weakened side in Europe’s premier competition, especially against Real Madrid, is unbefitting of a club of Liverpool’s stature. If I were one of Liverpool’s star players, I’d be choked to be left out of a game at the Bernabeu against the European champions.”

To which Rodgers replied: “I think the performance says the words. Gary is a figure who I respect and was a top player in his day but he’s never been a manager, so he has never truly understood what it is like in terms of picking players.

“I respect his opinion but I think the words were played out by my team. The performance was far from throwing the white towel in. Right to the very end my players put in a performance befitting of the wonderful club this is. That would be my answer.”

The match itself saw Liverpool put up a fairly resolute performance. James Rodriguez could have put the hosts 1-0 ahead in the first five minutes, sending a curling ball towards the top corner, however goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was there to keep it out.

Los Blancos had to wait until the 27th minute for the deadlock to break, though. Great work from Brazilian left back Marcelo resulted in a cross whipped in to the far post, and Benzema was there outstretched to poke the ball into the roof of the net.

Liverpool responded valiantly, but lacked cutting edge up front, with Fabio Borini isolated and looked exposed to Real’s attackers. It was the first time Cristiano Ronaldo has failed to score in 13 matches, though it wasn’t for the lack of trying.

Gerrard, Sterling and Coutinho were thrown on for the final 20 minutes, however couldn’t impose themselves effectively on the game which ended with a whimper.

Chelsea are next up for Liverpool (6/1 for the match), and Rodgers will be hoping that this will justify his team selection in Madrid, with the Reds needing three points if they are to keep themselves in with a very small chance of winning the title.