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Make-or-break test for Liverpool

Updated: 2014-11-26 06:44
By Agence France-Presse in Sofia (China Daily)

Brendan Rodgers faces arguably the biggest challenge of his career as Liverpool manager when he takes his ailing side to Bulgaria to face Ludogorets Razgrad in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Anything less than victory is likely to spell the end of five-time European champion Liverpool's hopes of qualifying for the last 16 of the continent's elite club soccer competition, barring a freakish set of other results.

Liverpool, runner-up in the Premier League last season, has struggled badly since the departure of star striker Luis Suarez, now with Spanish giant Barcelona. And its season hit a new low on Sunday as it suffered a 3-1 loss away to Crystal Palace - Liverpool's fourth straight defeat in all competitions - despite former Southampton striker Rickie Lambert giving it the lead with his first goal for the club.

This latest setback left Liverpool 18 points behind Premier League leader Chelsea and closer to the relegation zone than the Champions League places.

"I'm not arrogant enough to think I will be in the job through anything. Any manager will tell you they have to win games," Rodgers said.

"Ultimately you have to get results ... I can only do my best and fight even harder and take responsibility. Any pressure now comes on to me. It's my responsibility as a manager to pick the best team that I think can win the game."

New signings such as Mario Balotelli and Dejan Lovren have yet to impress and Rodgers accepted Liverpool fans would not put up with the argument his team had to get to know one another for much longer, nor with its vulnerability to the counter attack.

"We need to find a solution quickly because this is very disappointing and we have no one but ourselves to blame," said Rodgers.

"We had to make changes in the summer and are near enough entering a transition phase. But what-ever phase, we have to be better than that."

Ludogorets, in its first season in the Champions League, is only behind Liverpool at the bottom of Group B on goal difference, with both sides having taken three points from their opening four matches.

When the teams met at Anfield in September, Liverpool needed a stoppage-time penalty from captain Steven Gerrard to secure a 2-1 win after Dani Alabo canceled out Balotelli's 82nd-minute opener.

Ludogorets was whipped 4-0 at Swiss club Basel in its last Group B match but that result came after it had pushed Real Madrid to the limit in a 2-1 loss to the reigning European champion.

The style of his team's performance against the Spanish giant is what Ludogorets manager Georgi Dermendzhiev will want to see replicated on Wednesday.

"We played bravely, with courage and with no fear against the reigning European champions," he said. "We played as equals to Real. In football, anything can happen."

 

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