Gary Lim: Brendan Rodgers wrong to field weakened side against Real Madrid
REAL MADRID 1
(Karim Benzema 27)
Brendan Rodgers did the unthinkable yesterday morning (Singapore time).
He waved the white flag against the best European team in the continent's top competition.
The Liverpool boss left out a clutch of key players against Real Madrid in the Champions League Group B clash, where they still have a chance of reaching the knockout stage, to keep them fresh for their Premier League home encounter against Chelsea on Saturday.
Without Raheem Sterling, Steven Gerrard, Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson and Mario Balotelli in their starting line-up, the Reds went down to a 1-0 defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Considering how the defending European champions walked all over them at Anfield a fortnight ago, the first-team stars probably wouldn't have made a difference to the outcome anyway.
But that's missing the point.
Rodgers' gamble sent out a wrong message, almost like a cry of desperation.
This was, as ex-England striker Gary Lineker succinctly put it, "unbefitting of a club of Liverpool's stature".
Rodgers is playing a dangerous game.
For a man under intense pressure, his every move isn't just watched, but scrutinised.
A poor start to this term has left him a marked man.
From the high of finishing second in the league last season, his team now languish seventh in the Premiership table.
Following the loss in Madrid, they are now three points behind FC Basel, who occupy the second qualifying spot in Group B.
There will be some who feel his controversial move was vindicated.
After all, even with a weakened team, Liverpool avoided the rout some were expecting.
Former Liverpool defender Phil Thompson thought it was a performance they can be proud of.
Rodgers, who has always maintained that it's more important to finish in the Premiership top four, left Madrid impressed by his second-stringers.
But that might be just about the only positive he can take from the match.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho couldn't resist a dig. He said that he would surely pick his best team against the "most difficult opponents".
Not many will argue against that.
This is the same competition Liverpool fought so hard over the last few years trying to get back into.
And now that they are back in it, Rodgers decided that it is no longer their priority, and that the emphasis is to qualify for it again next season.
How does that sound for irony?
The argument that Liverpool should conserve their energy for their final two group matches doesn't hold water either.
With this win, Real are through to the Champions League knockout round.
That increases the likelihood of Carlo Ancelotti resting his stars in their two remaining matches against Basel and Ludogorets, the same two rivals Liverpool are battling with for second place.
It wouldn't be too difficult to imagine how the travelling fans, who forked out time and money, must be feeling right now.
If they feel cheated, they have every right to.
To Rodgers, it is sheer logic. Give up on a game they are likely to lose anyway, and focus on something they stand a better chance at - Chelsea on Saturday.
But this is more than just about money, results and league positions.
Every washout like this eats into the very soul that forms the fabric of a big club.
Liverpool, their reputation, and the fans deserve better.
Rodgers will do well to remember that.