Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers rolled the dice and came out even.
Rodgers fielded an inexperienced Liverpool squad Thursday for its UEFA Europa League opener at Bordeaux, but the Reds earned a 1-1 draw against the French club to start its European campaign with a point in the bank. Rodgers’ gamble on youth produced an outcome similar to what Liverpool fans have experienced in recent weeks: a disjointed performance, middling result and more questions than answers. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is a matter of perspective.
The prospect of Liverpool storming over Bordeaux faded after 10 minutes as the hosts seized the initiative and control of the game. However, the Reds deserve credit for staying united and organized enough to withstand their opponents’ surges and even score the opening goal after 66 minutes.
If only they had held onto that lead.
Rodgers should reserve special gratitude for his four most experienced players: Simon Mignolet, Mamadou Sakho, Philippe Coutinho and the goal-scorer, Adam Lallana. The quartet offered the determination, guile and quality Liverpool needed to earn a point from the game, and Rodgers hopes they’ll have enough energy to produce similar performances against Norwich City on Sunday at Anfield. If they do, Rodgers’ gamble will be worth it.
Jordan Rossiter’s European debut doubled as his first start of the season. The 18-year-old midfielder was among a host of youngsters in the starting lineup. Divock Origi, 20, started at striker. Jordon Ibe, 19, was a wide midfielder on the right. Joe Gomez, 18, lined up next to Sakho and Kolo Toure in central defense. Emre Can, 21, played a holding role in the midfield before Rodgers shifted him to right back. Alberto Moreno, 23, started wide left.
None of the six young Reds played poorly but no one stood out, either. The same goes for substitutes Danny Ings, 23, Cameron Brannagan, 19, and Pedro Chirivella, 18. They didn’t change the game for the better but didn’t give away the positive result, either.
Time will tell how much the nine youngsters contribute against Norwich City or in upcoming Premier League games. Can and Gomez aside, their roles will be greater in Football League Cup action, which begins for Liverpool next week against Carlisle United at Anfield. Each must raise his game in order to force his way further into Rodgers’ reckoning and displace a more experienced teammate. It could happen in the future, but won’t right away given the various performances against Bordeaux.
Rodgers also flirted with a change in formation. He started with a 3-4-2-1 setup but changed it in the first half after Toure limped out with an injury. We must delay verdict on the merits of the formation change, as 20 minutes simply isn’t enough time to assess its effectiveness.
Liverpool still lacked the intensity of pressing and high-tempo attack that was a staple of Rodgers’ best teams. Rodgers’ Reds, be they young, old or near their primes, still are searching for their identity and learning how to impose it on opponents.
A hard-earned point from an average performance on the road would have represented a good start to Liverpool’s Europa League campaign, even if Rodgers fielded his strongest lineup. That Liverpool earned the same result and delivered a similar display with a weakened team must be a positive. The Reds’ performance in Bordeaux probably is the floor of their collective abilities. Their ceiling is much higher, and they have plenty of time and games to hit it.
Thumbnail photo via Bob Edme/The Associated Press