Thursday evening will be a night of firsts for Brendan Rodgers, who makes his competitive bow as Liverpool boss while also making his European debut as a manager as the Reds kick off what the club’s hierarchy hope will be a successful new era.
The former Swansea City manager takes charge of the Anfield club for the first time in a match that matters as the Reds travel to Belarus to face FC Gomel in the Europa League third round qualifying round.
Of course, the Europa League is very much viewed as a secondary competition that is hardly worth bothering with here in England, which is in stark contrast to how it is viewed on the continent, where teams actually – imagine this – try to win the thing and don’t look to undermine it at every opportunity.
The Reds are still searching for fitness ahead of the start of the Premier League in two and a half weeks (this two-legged tie will help) so even though their quality is superior to that of their hosts, a lack of sharpness means that 33/100 is a no-go.
The joy that Athletic Bilbao, for example, brought to last season’s Europa League and the manner in which they played (most notably against Manchester United) should be an example to all, but Rodgers is already catching on to how big clubs treat the competition by declaring that although he “wants to go as far as we can”, there should be “no doubt that the league is our number one priority and we want to finish as high as we can”.
So there you have it. Liverpool haven’t even kicked a ball in the Europa League yet and the manager is already dismissing it. There are those who will argue Liverpool are in no position to pick and choose which competitions they are going to try to do well in, but similarly, the squad is probably not going to be deep (or good) enough to do well in any event. Either way, Liverpool’s stay in the Europa League isn’t going to last too long.
It does, however, have to last beyond this third-round qualifying tie against Gomel. While Rodgers’ appointment has been largely well accepted on Merseyside, it is a calculated gamble and the Northern Irishman needs a good start to avoid early questions being asked about his suitability.
Liverpool are 33/100 to give Rodgers a winning debut, with the draw at 13/4 and FC Gomel a huge 31/4 to cause an upset.
The Reds are still searching for fitness ahead of the start of the Premier League in two and a half weeks (this two-legged tie will help) so even though their quality is superior to that of their hosts, a lack of sharpness means that 33/100 is a no-go, especially as many of the Merseysiders’ best players are either behind in their preparations (the English contingent) or absent at the Olympics (Luis Suarez and Craig Bellamy), which means it is hard to second guess Rodgers’ starting eleven.
One player who won’t be starting is Andy Carroll, who hasn’t travelled with the squad as Rodgers does everything in his power to flog him (short of putting an advert in the Yellow Pages, he’s tried everything else), so it will be upon new signing Fabio Borini to lead the line against Gomel.
Defensively, Liverpool have a full quota so shouldn’t be unduly worried by a side who have won just once in five home games and with the prices in all the markets on a big Liverpool win too short, it may be worth looking at the 11/5 that Liverpool win a match that produces under 2.5 goals.
Liverpool won’t have a bagful of goals in them, but should do enough to get a win that will make the second leg a formality.
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