What looked like a dismal first half of the season, where Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League and fell away in the Premier League table, has suddenly turned into a more optimistic and promising outlook at the turn of the year. Brendan Rodgers’ side got close to reaching the final of the League Cup, narrowly falling to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, but the Reds still have two chances to lift silverware this season.
Even though the Reds was eliminated from Europe’s top competition and into the less-acclaimed Europa League, this competition still seems a little out of reach for the Reds. The likes of AS Roma, Napoli, Wolfsburg, Sevilla and Internazionale are still in the competition, and Rodgers can only feel there’s a realistic chance of silverware in Europe’s second-tier cup competition should his side manage to at least get to the quarters, which means getting past Besiktas in the round of 32 as well as whoever they may face in the round of 16.
Gerrard’s Dream Still Alive
A more realistic option is the FA Cup. After getting past a tricky away tie at recent bogey team Crystal Palace, the dream ending for Steven Gerrard continues. With another three Premier League side knocked out in the fifth round – two of which to lower league opposition – only half the quarter-finalists are top-flight clubs. Arsenal and Manchester United are the ones that will probably pose the most threat for the Reds, with Arsene Wenger looking to retain the cup while Louis Van Gaal will be hoping for silverware in his first season in charge of the Red Devils.
sturridge: key to the reds’ pursuit of silverware
Even though a potential triumph in the Europa League will mean a place in the Champions League next season, as mentioned earlier, such a triumph is still far from any Liverpool fans’ thoughts, and as such Rodgers’ main priority will certainly be a top four finish in the league. That said, Rodgers will do well to rotate and manage his squad well enough to cope with the rigours of two possible extended cup runs, while still trying to maintain the recently much improved league form.
At Selhurst Park, Rodgers will be pleased that some of his squad players stepped up and actually performed to a level that could warrant league starts. Much-maligned midfielder Joe Allen put in a combative performance in central midfield, carrying the ball forward often after the Reds fell behind, while doing well to keep possession in the closing stages of the game. Adam Lallana looked bright and lively throughout, testing Palace keeper Julian Speroni once in the first half before reacting first when Speroni spilled Mario Balotelli’s freekick. And yes, that Italian did well off the bench again, as Rodgers sent him on at half-time with the Reds chasing the game. He won the free kick, took the free kick that resulted in Lallana’s goal, harried the Palace defenders well and kept hold of the ball in the dying stages.
Simon Mignolet continued his resurgence in goal, managing to connect with the many Palace crosses into his box and generally commanding his area well. Though the Belgian may have been partially at fault for Frazier Campbell’s opener, it was his save from Dwight Gayle that prevented the Reds from falling two behind. Mignolet’s confidence looks to have returned, and it will be hoped his form continues to steadily improve, with Rodgers hoping an improved back-line will serve the Reds well for the rest of the season.
Besiktas At Anfield
With Besiktas on the horizon as the Reds start their Europa League campaign in the round of 32, Rodgers should almost certainly rotate most of his squad, with an important trip to St. Mary’s just a few days later.
Mignolet will surely continue in goal, with youngster Danny Ward the only fit senior goalkeeper. Martin Skrtel should be taken out of the firing line and given a rest, especially after his performance against Palace probably exposing some fatigue. Mamadou Sakho should be given a rest as well, with Emre Can given a chance in his favoured midfield position. With that, a trio of Glen Johnson, recent African Nations Cup winner Kolo Toure and Dejan Lovren should have enough experience to get through the tie against Turkish opposition.
After a good shift at Palace, Allen should get a chance alongside Can in midfield, with skipper-in-waiting Jordan Henderson given a rare break – even the tireless needs a rest at times. FA Cup-tied Jordon Ibe should return to the line-up at right wing back, with Jose Enrique given a rare chance at left wing back in place of Alberto Moreno.
lallana deserves a chance as the main playmaker vs besiktas, with coutinho rested
Fresh from his winning goal at Palace, Lallana should get a chance – with Coutinho given a break after his impressive performance in recent times. Italian enigma Balotelli should get the chance to be the main forward, with Daniel Sturridge only restricted to a substitute role in this match of lesser importance. A toss-up between Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert for the last attacking slot, but one would choose Borini for his energy and ability to run beyond Balotelli.
Rodgers should also look to blood youngsters like Jordan Williams, and maybe give on-loan Javier Manquillo a chance from the bench. Most importantly, the manager needs to give more game time to more squad members in anticipation for their potential use in more important league or FA Cup games. This will give the Reds a greater shot at silverware and that much-sought after top four place, and there’s no perfect game than the first leg of a home tie in the Europa League.