BASEL, October 2- Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers refused to be downbeat about his side’s Champions League prospects despite a poor performance in Basel on Wednesday and with Real Madrid to come next.
The Reds were deservedly beaten 1-0 by the Swiss champions at the St Jakob-Park as captain Marco Streller netted the only goal of the game seven minutes into the second half.
Rodgers’s side had already required a stoppage-time Steven Gerrard penalty to beat Bulgarian outsiders Ludogorets Razgrad in their opening Group B game and the prospect of two matches against the Champions League holders is surely enough to strike fear into fans of the Anfield club just now.
However, the Liverpool manager insisted: “The group is still very close. It was always going to be a group that went right to the end, certainly for second place.
“We are under no illusions that it will be tough. Our objective is still to get through to the knockout stages.
“It was disappointing tonight but our next game will be a great occasion for us at Anfield. In this competition in particular your home games are really important, but hopefully we will qualify because that is our aim.”
Liverpool, in their first Champions League campaign in five years, are tied with Basel on three points with Madrid top on six points after a 2-1 victory at Ludogorets.
The Spaniards visit Anfield on October 22 with the return at the Santiago Bernabeu on November 4, and Rodgers knows his side will have to defend better than they did at the corner which produced the decisive goal in Switzerland, as Streller reacted quickest to score after a Simon Mignolet save.
Reds’ captain Steven Gerrard was cutting in his assessment of the evening saying Liverpool “didn’t deserve anything from the game. We were soft and second best all over the pitch.”
And Rodgers, while he felt his team should have come away with a draw as Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic both came close in the second half, echoed those comments.
“Yeah I replicated that in the changing room. The goal we conceded was far too soft and it is not the first one. It is very disappointing after all the work we have done on the training ground,” said the Northern Irishman.
“We never got going in the first 25 minutes, but then we grew into the game. But when you concede a soft goal like that it is difficult, away from home against a side who have a good record against English teams.”
– ‘We will get better’ –
Rodgers defended Balotelli, despite a poor performance by the Italian, but accepted that his side are currently nothing like the often irresistible force that came close to winning the Premier League last season.
“Technically we are nowhere near where we were at last year, but I am hoping that as players come back from injury that we will get better.”
Liverpool, who are 14th in the Premier League before hosting West Bromwich Albion this weekend, could have Daniel Sturridge back from injury in that game, while the likes of Joe Allen and Emre Can are also on the way back to fitness.
“Once we get Sturridge back and Joe Allen, who has never been mentioned, and the other guys, it just makes us a much stronger squad,” added Rodgers.
The glory on the night went to Paulo Sousa, the Basel coach who was the predecessor to Rodgers at Swansea City.
The Portuguese replaced Murat Yakin at Basel in the summer and led the Swiss champions to another famous European win, as they added Liverpool to a list of English victims in the last three years that already featured Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea.
When asked if it was his biggest victory as a coach, Sousa admitted: “At the moment (yes). It is a big victory for all of us.
“I think to win against a historic club like Liverpool and these players…It was a perfect evening.
“Victories that are special, like these, give you much more trust in what you are doing. The boys showed a fantastic level today, the level we want to have.”