Given the history and expectations Liverpool carry with them every time they travel abroad, a draw against the little-known champions of Bulgaria should not have been worthy of too much commemoration.
Nevertheless, as he stood in the corridors of Sofia’s national stadium, after the worst month of his time as Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers could cling to two things: their fate in the Champions League is still in their own hands, which given that they have taken points only from Ludogorets Razgrad is an achievement of sorts. Before the draw was made Rodgers would have taken an equation that meant his side had to beat Basel at home to go through.
Also, they did not lose – a fifth straight defeat would have been Liverpool’s worst run since 1953. Watching from the touchline in below-freezing conditions, Rodgers would have wanted several things but the minimum was to show that his team could compete. “First, you have to be competitive,” he said. “And for whatever reason – the World Cup, player changes, transition, we have not been competitive. We have shown we are ready to compete now.”
On Saturday, they will have to compete against Stoke who will not have to look too far for Liverpool’s weak point: an out-of-form goalkeeper in Simon Mignolet. In the Champions League, Rodgers has made radical changes – the team that faced Ludogorets was selected for its ruggedness rather than the beauty of its football. However, the one position he cannot readily change because Mignolet’s deputy, Brad Jones, is not strong enough competition, is the goalkeeper. Arsenal fans are not the only ones wondering if Petr Cech can be persuaded to exchange Chelsea reserves for something more substantial.
“As a goalkeeper, you have to let these things go,” Rodgers said of Mignolet’s error. “That goal was a massive setback for the team but we need to keep his confidence as high as we can.”Reuse content