Brendan Rodgers said Liverpool had no excuses for their elimination from the Champions League, conceding his team had not been good enough and that individual futures would come under scrutiny at Anfield following European failure.
Liverpool had to beat Basel to qualify for the knockout phase but needed an 81st-minute goal from Steven Gerrard to draw 1-1 and were frequently second best against Paulo Sousa’s team. Lazar Markovic was sent off 15 minutes after his introduction as a half-time substitute for flailing an arm towards the theatrical Behrang Safari, Gerrard had a penalty appeal dismissed by the referee, Björn Kuipers, and Liverpool pressured the Basel goal in the closing stages.
However, Rodgers accepted last season’s runners-up in the Premier League had not been up to the required standard in Europe’s premier competition, having collected only five points from six Champions League group games, winning only once, against Ludogorets of Bulgaria.
“We are obviously disappointed,” the Liverpool manager said. “We had earned the right to be in the Champions League after a wonderful season last year but over the course of the games we weren’t good enough and didn’t get enough points. We can’t have any excuses about not qualifying. We had enough games.
“The big game was away in Basel, where we were disappointing. We conceded a poor goal and lost. If you deserve to go through, you get the points and you go through.
“For us it is simple, we haven’t been good enough over the course of the competition. We are going to fight as hard as we can to make sure it is not another five years [before Liverpool return to the Champions League]. We are bitterly disappointed and we will fight very hard to make sure we are back in it next year.”
Rodgers accepted the referee made the right call on Gerrard’s penalty claim but believed Safari, the Basel defender, should have been sent off for the overreaction to Markovic’s touch. He said: “The penalties were close but maybe the right calls. I thought the sending-off was a really disappointing decision by the referee. I am not sure he is close enough to see it. If Lazar Markovic gets sent off for that – his fingernail barely touches the nose of the defender – then the defender should be sent off for his reaction. We really took the fight to them with 10 men and in that final half-hour we were outstanding, but a lot of decisions were disappointing.”
Sousa defended Safari’s action and insisted Basel merited their place behind Real Madrid in Group B as “we were the better team”. He added: “I will not contest what Rodgers is saying about Behrang. From what I understand he is not this kind of player.”
Gerrard echoed his manager’s assessment on an underwhelming European campaign from Liverpool. The captain, who scored his 41st European goal, said: “We haven’t gone out of the competition because of our performance tonight, we’ve gone out because away at Basel we weren’t good enough and in our last game [at Ludogorets] we conceded a stupid goal towards injury time. You always qualify over the six games and unfortunately we haven’t been good enough.”
Rodgers admitted individual futures at the club would be under scrutiny. He said: “It is about managing expectation. We have been out of the Champions League for a long time and we came into it with a great excitement. When you don’t qualify everyone gets looked on. Across the board we will be looked at and analysed. For us the solution is simple: we have to be better in our performance level.
“That is everyone, the manager and the players but we have to realise where we have come from. The expectation coming into the season was high but it is a different squad and a different group of players. There is disappointment but now we have to fight for the rest of the season and make it a success.”
Source: The Guardian