Brendan Rodgers must rest key players for Liverpool’s Europa League clash against FC Sion on Thursday night, with a vitally important and potential make-or-break Merseyside derby just three days later.
With the chance to build some positive momentum against Swiss side Sion on Thursday, Rodgers could be tempted to field a full strength side for the first Anfield Europa League clash.
It is easy to understand why the Liverpool boss would want to deploy a first choice team, with the opportunity to cash in on a rare ray of on-pitch positivity following the Aston Villa victory.
But doing so just a matter of hours ahead of the first Merseyside derby of the season at Goodison Park on Sunday would represent a massive risk for the under-fire Reds manager.
It would be a huge, extremely short-sighted gamble, and it’s one Rodgers simply must not take.
Despite the weekend’s 3-2 win over Tim Sherwood’s Villa, pressure is still very much on the Northern Irishman, with his post-victory words smacking of a man certainly feeling the heat of the current situation.
The only way any pressure will be relieved from his shoulders is by winning games quickly and consistently, and though Thursday’s clash is certainly a fixture Liverpool need to win, the derby against Everton presents a game of paramount importance for Rodgers – one he simply dare not lose.
With FSG reportedly watching from the background waiting to determine whether a genuine up turn of fortunes awaits or another false dawn follows the confidence-boosting result, the Goodison clash is a match with no margin for error.
While a bad result in Europe would add to mounting pressure, there would still be four Group B matches left to reverse the damage done.
A derby day defeat however could prove to be the end of the road for Rodgers – a defeat would put the Reds four points behind the Blues, and likely see Rodgers’ side drop into the bottom half ahead of a two-week international break.
There is a very real possibility that Rodgers’ Anfield future rides on the outcome of the derby, and he must therefore ensure that when he makes the trip across Stanley Park with his squad, the players are in the best condition possible to maximise the chances of a strong display.
Injury Threat & Squad Depth
Injuries within the squad are already stacking up, giving the manager even less room and reason to play dangerously with certain fragile members of the group.
The Reds cannot afford to lose any more first choice picks – especially those remaining key men – to be able to name as strong an XI as possible against a confident and in-form Everton side.
Emre Can and Alberto Moreno lead the way in the appearances stakes this season and the unsustainable amount of game time the duo have played opens them up to the increasing risk of a knock as fatigue creeps in.
It’s in this kind of situation that injury becomes a more dangerous but realistic possibility and Rodgers must minimise the risk by giving the pair a night off on Thursday.
With Danny Ings a possible contender to keep Rodgers in his job, and Daniel Sturridge slowly but surely returning to the level of form and sharpness the Liverpool boss needs, it would be a decision of pure stupidity to risk either of the strike duo who could prove to be the difference.
Rodgers must utilise the squad depth at his disposal with the likes of Kolo Toure, Joe Gomez, Joe Allen, Jordan Rossiter, Jordon Ibe, Adam Lallana and Divock Origi all in reserve.
Preserving nailed on starters and especially those in positive form to an extent must be the Reds leader’s priority at Anfield – not going all out for a win in a fixture that he has less to lose than on Sunday and everything to gain.
A Tough Game Awaits
The Reds arrive to take on a team who enjoyed a prolonged break heading into their Monday night game at West Brom, which undoubtedly helped them to fight their way back from two goals down, and now head into the derby with another period of respite.
This is a severe contrast to Rodgers’ men, who will be lining up for their seventh fixture in 22 days when they take to the Goodison Park surface on Sunday afternoon.
Facing Roberto Martinez’s side who head into the grudge match full of confidence after the comeback at the Hawthorns, and have no European demands to contend with, poses a dangerous fixture for the Liverpool boss giving him all the more reason to ensure his starting XI are as fresh and sharp as possible.
Has to be said, great comeback win by Everton. Massive confidence boost for them going into the weekends derby game.
— Spion Kop (@TheKopHQ) September 28, 2015
Rodgers finds himself in a strange position of needing to prioritise fixtures to win while picking up as many victories as he can at the same time – a tough juggling act boren out of the situation the Reds find themselves in.
But the Liverpool manager must think ahead and plan carefully for Thursday and more importantly Sunday’s game, with his job potentially resting on the conclusion.
Squad rotation has never been a strong point of Rodgers’ tenure at Anfield. He made eight changes in Bordeaux but fielded a near full-strength team vs. Carlisle. It needs to be the former not the latter on Thursday.
If he doesn’t, the consequences could be brutal.