Football

Rodgers heartened 
by Pool resilience

WHY ALWAYS ME: Mario Balotelli (right) scoring Liverpool’s first goal after collecting a left-wing cross from Alberto Moreno. PHOTO: JASON CAIRNDUFF/ACTION IMAGES

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers drew encouragement from his side's perseverance after they eked out a 2-1 win over Bulgarian newcomers Ludogorets Razgrad on their return to the Champions League.

Gerrard's 93rd-minute spot-kick allowed Liverpool to mark their return to the competition after a five-year absence with victory, and despite their attacking shortcomings, Rodgers was heartened by their grit.

"It's a competition that's about winning, and winning games," said Rodgers, who had seen his side lose 1-0 at home to Aston Villa last Saturday.

"Sometimes, you'll play well and not get a result. For us, it was very important to be back in the competition.

"Maybe in the first six months (of Rodgers' tenure), we would have probably drawn that game or maybe even lost it.

"But we showed the resilience and character that's in this group, and roared on by our supporters, it was great for us."

He added: "We're not at the standard we were last season. We have a lot of players who have come in and are still adapting.

"It's still a new team and we're still a work in progress, but it's important to win the games."

With Liverpool toiling in attack, Mario Balotelli showcased his predatory instincts to score his first goal for the club, holding off a pair of defenders to gather Alberto Moreno's left-wing cross and then guiding a shot inside the right-hand post.

But, while Rodgers hailed his sang-froid, he urged the Italy striker to spend more time in the penalty area.

"He needs to be in the box more. Because of his link-up play, he drops in," Rodgers said.

"I said to him at half-time, just make sure that when the ball's in wide areas, you're penalty-spot in, rather than penalty-spot out, because he finds himself pulling back for the cut-back.

MARIO MAGIC

"He's 1.90 metres and he's great in the air, and when the cross then comes in, he showed great physical strength, touch, and then a brilliant finish - wonderful technique, outside of the foot.

"It'll give him a whole load of confidence. On top of that, he worked very hard. He's still adapting, still trying to get fit because he's behind the others. But he showed his quality and that got us the goal."

Ludogorets, who were founded only in 2001, were playing their first competitive game in England and were supported by a small, no band of supporters who had travelled from the northern Bulgarian city of Razgrad.

Liverpool's next Champions League game is on Oct 1 when they visit Basel. - Wire Services.