Rodgers upbeat despite Europe exit

Published: Saturday 28th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers admits their Europa League exit may yet prove to be a blessing in disguise.

The Reds’ run in the competition, having dropped down from the Champions League, lasted just one round as they lost to Besiktas on penalties on Thursday.

Rodgers insists there was no psychological damage from the first European penalty shoot-out defeat in the club’s history and believes it may end up working in their favour.

Last season, without the demands of Europe, his side hit top form after the turn of the year, winning 15 league matches, drawing three and losing just one as they finished second in the title race to Sunday’s opponents Manchester City.

With that in mind, Rodgers is now looking forward to being able to focus on one match a week without any Europa League distractions.

“At the time you don’t like to say that because we want to win, and this year has been an experience for us both in the Champions League and Europa League,” said the Northern Irishman, whose side were just three points off third place going into the weekend.

“A lot of young players have gained invaluable experience in Europe this year and will be better for it.

“We want to be in those competitions and the Champions League consistently for the next number of years but there is no doubt with that out of the way, and after next week’s game against Burnley (on Wednesday), we will go to nearly one game a week, which probably for the first time this season will give us (the) chance to prepare every aspect.”

It has been a quick turnaround to get the players ready to face City as extra-time and penalties in Istanbul meant the squad were even later getting back to Liverpool than they had anticipated.

It gave them less than 55 hours to prepare whereas the visitors will have had an extra two days’ rest, having played in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Rodgers will be able to bring playmaker Philippe Coutinho back into the team having rested him in midweek.

Lazar Markovic is available after suspension in Europe and a late decision will be made on the ankle injury which forced Jordan Henderson to miss the trip, but the Reds boss is effectively selecting from the same squad which was left heartbroken in the Ataturk Stadium.

“It was always going to be difficult in terms of the preparation – you don’t have to be a sports scientist to know when you arrive back at 4.30am on Friday and you have a game early on Sunday physically there will be a cost,” Rodgers said.

“But if you look at where the team is at there is no psychological damage from the other night.”

Rodgers will be hoping the 105 minutes striker Daniel Sturridge played on Thursday will not have a detrimental effect when he comes up against his former club at Anfield.

“We have to manage Daniel. He had given everything in the game,” said the manager, when asked why Sturridge had not been kept on to try to snatch the away goal which would have effectively killed the tie.

“This is a player who is coming back from five months out injured, who is still gaining fitness in games, and we have to be really careful he doesn’t break.

“Daniel’s history shows that as he has a past in terms of injuries.

“There has been very little training in between games. He had no more left in his legs and we needed to take him off to prevent him getting an injury when he was very tired.”

City manager Manuel Pellegrini knows his side must address their poor record at Anfield to turn up the heat in the title race.

With Chelsea involved in the Capital One Cup final this weekend, the champions can cut the gap at the top of the Barclays Premier League to two points with victory against Rodgers’ men.

But history is not on their side, with City having not won at the home of the Reds in any of their last 11 league visits – seven of which they have lost.

Pellegrini feels it is about time his team put that statistic right.

He said: “Always Liverpool are a strong team with a difficult stadium, but I also think all those statistics – you must change it.

“This year we won at Stoke, and in the last six years we never did that.”

City could hand a full debut to £25million-signing Wilfried Bony, who has made two substitute appearances in the past week after returning from the African Nations Cup.

Pellegrini said: “We will see which is the best moment for him to start. It is important for him, every time that he goes in, to give to our team what we know he can do.”

Published: Saturday 28th February 2015 by The News Editor

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