Liverpool vs Manchester City: Brendan Rodgers and his fading Liverpool may have reached breaking point

Reds were knocked out of the Europa League on Thursday night

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The Independent Football

The bare, concrete corridor in the Ataturk Stadium was no place to ask Brendan Rodgers if Liverpool were better off out of the Europa League.

They had been, as the Besiktas manager, Slaven Bilic, pointed out, the favourites to win the tournament and the Champions League place that went with it. They had got nowhere near the final, eliminated through the cruelty of a penalty shoot-out, and all that remained was a crawl through Istanbul’s choking traffic, a four-hour flight to Merseyside and a single frantic day to prepare for Manchester City.

Liverpool’s season may be reaching breaking point. Rodgers was barely able to fill central midfield for the encounter with Besiktas and he would have known Bilic was right when he described Liverpool as “fading, fading, fading” as the game dragged on towards penalties.

One of the reasons Liverpool – who lost £90m in the 22 months to the end of the 2012-13 season – are so confident they will not face any Financial Fair Play penalties, when Uefa delivers its sanctions, is that they are set to announce a small profit for last season. This season, because of the Champions League, they will generate a substantial one.

 

However, to get back in among Europe’s elite, Liverpool have still to travel to both Arsenal and Chelsea while facing both Manchester clubs at Anfield. The strain on what is still a relatively young side is almost tangible.

“We will only see at the end of the season,” said Rodgers when asked if Thursday night’s elimination might be a blessing in disguise. “It is never a good feeling when you lose. You could see what we put into this competition and what it meant to us to go forward.

“We have now played more games than we did in the whole of last season but we are prepared to fight all the way through. We have a Champions League place to fight for and an FA Cup quarter-final to play. We still have our objectives and we will do everything we can to achieve them.”

The one advantage Rodgers has is that this season Liverpool have learnt the art of recovery.

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Besiktas’s players and staff celebrate in the background as Dejan Lovren reflects on his penalty shoot-out miss

Their insipid Champions League campaign was not helped by the fact that they won only two domestic fixtures following their big European nights.

Their manager argued that the template for tomorrow’s encounter with Manchester City had to be the way Liverpool responded to defeat in the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup to Chelsea.

They lost that tie late on in extra time over two legs. And they will have had greater cause for disappointment: Rodgers argued that they had played better against Chelsea than they had against Besiktas – and they had been far closer to making the final. Their season might have broken down there and then; instead, Liverpool won six of their next seven matches.

Significantly, their last four games have been without Steven Gerrard. If Liverpool wanted a glimpse of the future, with Emre Can in central midfield rather than the man who has inspired them for a decade, they have had it. And it is probably nothing to be frightened of.

“Stevie is still an influence,” said Rodgers. “But by the same token, you have to prepare the team going forward and, if you look around this team, there is a lot of exciting young talent. Stevie is a positive influence but for us life will go on.”

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