23rd August, 2012
LONDON: Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has taken a gamble by resting Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Martin Skrtel and Glen Johnson for Thursday’s Europa League clash against Scottish club Hearts.
Rodgers could do with a convincing play-off first leg win at Tynecastle after Liverpool slumped to a 3-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion in his first Premier League game in charge of the Reds on Saturday.
In the past a “Battle of Britain” clash would be regarded as a must-win match but the Premier League is very much top priority for Liverpool these days.
And, with a testing fixture against champions Manchester City looming on Sunday, Rodgers has opted not to risk captain Gerrard, star striker Suarez and key defenders Skrtel and Johnson.
“That’s the way you’ve got to look at it,” Liverpool assistant manager Colin Pascoe told his club’s website.
“With the squad and the players we have got here it’s fantastic, so you have to rotate the players because you play on a Saturday, then a Thursday and a Sunday, so it’s an opportunity for all the players to perform.
“One minute you are in the Europa League and the next we will be playing Manchester City, then it’s the second leg against Hearts followed by Arsenal.
“There are some fantastic games and teams who you want to play against.
These are games we can’t wait for.”
Despite Rodgers’ squad being weakened by the absence of his key quartet Pascoe insisted Liverpool aren’t showing the Scottish Cup winners a lack of respect.
“Every game you put a shirt on for Liverpool FC is very important,” he added. “There will be a full house up in Scotland and all of the boys are looking forward to it.
“It’s one of those banana skins and it’s a great pull for them to play Liverpool.
“It’s two legs and we are going to be positive and try to win the tie up there and then bring them back to Anfield for the same again.”
Gerrard is confident that Liverpool can get back on track.
“It’s important that the likes of myself and the other experienced players take responsibility for a poor defeat,” he told the Liverpool Echo.
“We have to put it behind us. We’ve got to dust ourselves down and bounce back against Hearts on Thursday night. We have to react in the right manner and look to put things right in the coming games.”
It would be a huge shock if Liverpool—who edged out Gomel of Belarus in the third qualifying round—failed to come through this two-legged tie and take a place in the group stage of the competition.
However, what in the past would have been classed as a ‘Battle of Britain’ is now something of a mismatch.
Where once Scottish clubs were able to compete more or less on a par with their southern neighbours, the vast sums of money thrown at the English game over the last two decades have left them lagging behind.
While the Anfield board have reportedly splashed out close to £30 million ($47.3 million) on Joe Allen, Fabio Borini and Oussama Assaidi this summer, cash-strapped Hearts have seen a whole host of players leave without being able to replace them.
A year ago the Jam Tarts lost 5-0 at home to Tottenham Hotspur at the same stage of the competition, while on Saturday they were held to a 2-2 draw at home by 10-man Inverness in the Scottish Premier League.
“It’s a totally different kettle of fish, playing against Liverpool, and we’ll have to rise to the challenge,” says Hearts manager John McGlynn.
“They’re obviously a fantastic football club. They suffered a 3-0 defeat themselves on Saturday but only time will tell whether that is an advantage or disadvantage to us.”
Elsewhere, Newcastle United will face Greek club Atromitos in Athens.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, who saw his side beat Tottenham 2-1 in their Premier League opener at the weekend, is likely to rest key players with Saturday’s trip to Chelsea in mind, while Hatem Ben Arfa is suspended.
“The fact we will have to juggle our playing staff for the Premier League and the Europa League fixtures means we have to take a bit of a gamble with our chances of progressing in Europe,” admitted Pardew.
“There isn’t a lot of money in it, not unless you win the thing. Not compared to the Premier League.
“I am still, of course, looking forward to the challenge. You want to pit your wits against other nationalities, other managers with different types of football.”
In other games, Scottish side Motherwell face Spain’s Levante, who are competing in Europe for the first time, last season’s runners-up Athletic Bilbao face HJK Helsinki, and Inter Milan take on Vaslui of Romania.
Bundesliga outfit Stuttgart face Dinamo Moscow, whose line-up includes former Germany striker Kevin Kuranyi.
And big-spending Russians Anzhi Makhachkala, coached by Dutchman Guus Hiddink, face AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands, who were quarter-finalists last season.