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Brendan Rodgers vindicated after Liverpool back-ups keep Ronaldo quiet

By Steven Beacom

Brendan Rodgers has never been afraid to make big decisions as a manager. If you didn’t know that before last night, you do now.

Even for him though what he did at the Bernabeu with his team selection was a huge call to make, sparking a frenzied reaction.

When Liverpool’s starting XI was announced for their latest match it was as if a story of massive national interest had just broken.

Texts were flying around like there was no tomorrow, tweets were doing the same and there were debates on the radio about the shock of it all.

This is what it will be like when Simon Cowell finally chucks in X-Factor and replaces poor old Len on Strictly!

A few called it bold, more described it as risky, lots labelled it stupid, others like Gary Lineker stuck the knife in suggesting it was a surrender and ‘unbefitting of a club of Liverpool’s stature’.

There you go Brendan, all those years ago growing up in Carnlough you never thought that choosing 11 players would create such a stir.

Then again this was against Real Madrid, the best club side in the world right now, against Cristiano Ronaldo, the best player in the world right now, in a stadium with iconic status and in a Champions League competition that in the finance filled football world at least has become more important than the World Cup.

It was well known that captain Steven Gerrard would be rested, with Chelsea coming to Anfield in the Premier League on Saturday, but gazing at the team list and not seeing Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling, Mario Balotelli, Phillipe Coutinho, Dejan Lovren and even Glen Johnson caused everyone to go into meltdown.

Not Rodgers. He remained calm, composed and confident in the ‘strong team’ he was putting out.

His pre-match explanation was because ‘our form this season has been nowhere near our level. It’s hard to pick our best team.’

Ain’t that the truth. Most supporters would have said Liverpool’s best team, bar the injured Daniel Sturridge, played against Newcastle at the weekend and every single one of them, except for Gerrard and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, were woeful in that 1-0 defeat.

Never mind being rested for Chelsea, Henderson, Sterling, Balotelli, Coutinho, Lovren and Johnson deserved to be dropped for their lack-lustre displays.

Against the might of Madrid in came players like Emre Can, Lucas, Adam Lallana and Fabio Borini, all much more lively than their club mates had been on Tyneside.

Kolo Toure was also given a start in defence by Rodgers. Considered a joke figure by some, nobody was laughing at him last night. He was outstanding keeping Ronaldo and co at bay for most of the match.

Just once was the visiting defence breached when a brilliant move ended with Karim Benzema netting at the far post in the 27th minute.

Once the deadlock was broken, most expected Liverpool to fold. They didn’t. They fought and fought hard unlike at Newcastle.

Losing 1-0 to a side that recently completely blitzed a Barcelona team which included Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Suarez and Neymar is no disgrace.

The so called first team wouldn’t have done any better, that’s for sure.

Liverpool may have rarely looked like scoring an equaliser and ultimately this was another defeat, but the performance was much more encouraging.

Rodgers, whose team must win their final two Champions League group games to progress, made the right call.

Now he has another selection dilemma to deal with... going with the players that did him proud in Spain or reverting to those warming the bench last night.

One thing’s for sure he won’t be afraid to make more big decisions.

Belfast Telegraph

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