Liverpool Focus – Encouraging Europa League display bodes well for Chelsea clash

Nine Englishmen were selected in Liverpool’s starting line-up as Brendan Rodgers’ side went to battle against big-spending Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala in the Europa League on Thursday evening. Picking so many English players to participate in a competitive game is a somewhat rare occurrence for a top-half Premier League team, but the Reds’ boss had very little option. Rodgers’ experimental side – which consisted of experienced stars such as Jamie Carragher, capped internationals like Jordan Henderson and relatively inexperienced rookies such as Adam Morgan – could not help the Merseysiders to a result but a number of them left Russia with great credit.

Lacina Traore’s superb first-half strike allowed the hosts to record a 1-0 victory – a result that left Group A wide open. But Rodgers will be encouraged with the performances of his fringe players and knows that some of them should have enough quality to see Liverpool advance from this stage of the competition. Conor Coady showed great promise on his debut for the Reds and young striker Morgan’s hour-long display suggested that he too has potential. Meanwhile, veteran defender Carragher performed soundly against Traore and Samuel Eto’o. Given their performances, these players can be expected to play in the crucial final two group games against Young Boys and Udinese.

Based on Rodgers’ team selection on Thursday, it appears as though the former Swansea boss would be more interested in guiding Liverpool to a respectable finish in the Premier League this term rather than placing most of his eggs in the Europa League basket. Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Jose Enrique, Nuri Sahin, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez were all rested for the crunch clash against Chelsea this weekend. Even 17-year-old winger Raheem Sterling missed out on the trip to Russia so that he remains fresh for the trip to Stamford Bridge. Given the calibre of players that were missing, it may even have come as something of a surprise to some fans to see Liverpool play so well against Anzhi.

In truth, however, the Reds have impressed in the majority of their fixtures so far this campaign, without picking up maximum points. A visit to face the European champions could change that. Not only did Roberto Di Matteo pick a strong side for the Blues’ midweek Champions League clash, which could hand Liverpool a slight advantage, but recent form also indicates that the Anfield outfit have a good chance of leaving the Bridge with three points. Despite enduring two fairly disappointing seasons, the Merseysiders have beaten Chelsea in their last four top-flight meetings. Whether that record will lift spirits among the Liverpool players or will simply add more pressure to both the team and the manager remains to be seen. Rodgers has won just two Premier League fixtures this season. A third victory, against a side he was involved in as a coach at both youth team and reserve level, would be sweet and could even kick-start the Reds’ season.

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