Liverpool’s return to the Champions League after a three-year absence hasn’t been as triumphant as expected. The Reds have dug themselves into quite a hole in the first four match days, winning just once and losing three times, including consecutive losses to reigning European champions, Real Madrid. As a result, Liverpool is currently three points behind Basel for that second automatic berth for the knockout round in Group C with only two games remaining.
Brendan Rodgers’ side hasn’t looked anywhere near convincing in its first exposure to the tournament under his guidance. They needed a late penalty to earn their only win against group minnows Ludogorets in their first group game, and were outclassed by Real Madrid at Anfield. Liverpool is a longshot to win the championship this year, and rightly so as qualification past the group stage is a major uncertainty at this point.
Having said that, it’s far from over for the Reds, who still control their fate. Even if Basel wins at home against the already-qualified Real Madrid (which is still a difficult task), Liverpool can still tie the Swiss on nine points if they win their two remaining games – away to Ludogorets and at home against Basel. The only barrier to Liverpool progressing in that scenario would be the first tie breaker, goal difference, where Basel has a four-goal advantage.
Admittedly, it’s tough to be confident in Liverpool winning both of those potential must-win games with the way it’s been playing this season. Their defence has continued to be a liability, the attack has missed Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge mightily, and eulogies are being written about once-great captain and midfield marvel Steven Gerrard, whose performances have slipped this season.
There is a bit of good news on the horizon, though, with Sturridge set to make his return from his injury woes. Sturridge, who scored 21 league goals last season, will be a big boost to a Liverpool attack that has scored just twice in the Champions League with the disappointing Mario Balotelli leading the line.
But with other parts of his squad playing ineffectively, Rodgers will need to make more changes in his line up. Kolo Toure and Emre Can made the most of their opportunity to play against Real Madrid by putting in commendable performances, and lead the list of players that deserve consideration to start. Toure, in particular, should get an opportunity to play in place of the underwhelming Dejan Lovren in the middle of defence.