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So Who's Right?

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This morning, amidst a storm of contrary opinion, Liverpool reflect on a creditable display in Madrid which contributed precisely nothing to their Champions League qualification bid and Brendan Rodgers is a man facing a harsh media glare.

It was José's ball and he was going home...
It was José's ball and he was going home...
Clive Brunskill

For some of us, the cruel transcience of time has started to leave an indelible imprint on the fragile husks in which we transport our consciousness. Lines of character are slow to disappear from around our weary eyes following a hollow laugh at the latest guff emanating from Harry Redknapp, the cartilage in our knees grinds painfully as we run from behind the couch to celebrate a rare moment of Liverpool-related levity and even the very hair in our depression beards betrays the encroachment of decrepitude.

Thomas Kinsella, a fellow Irishman, wrote in his poem, Another September, about his dawning realisation of the damage wrought by the passing years but his verses end on a note of admirable defiance. Finishing his shave, having duly noted the signs of age on his visage, he comes to an acceptance but will not surrender to nature's cruelty, choosing instead to symbolically subvert a well-known cliché.

In slow distaste,

I fold my towel with what grace I can,

Not young and not renewable, but man

Last night, in the wake of a tremendous wave of fan negativity and professional pundit sniping surrounding his team selection, Brendan Rodgers stood accused of throwing in that towel, of limp surrender and lame capitulation. Football media luminary and BBC anchor, Gary Lineker, led the way in a carping chorus of disgruntled ex-pros, managers and Liverpool fans who felt that the selection sent into the fray against the mighty Real Madrid last night was an insult of some variety. Rodgers had, many insisted, betrayed the values of his proud club and disrespected the sanctity of UEFA's flagship competition. Lineker took to Twitter immediately to give voice to his indignance.

Sensing a chance to bait the Liverpool manager with the surprisingly frank appraisal of the England legend, journalists were quick to throw the opinions at him. What did he make of the generously-eared Match of the Day presenter's critique? With his usual aplomb, Rodgers managed to express respect for Lineker's past and dismiss the relevance of his opinion.

"Gary is a figure who I respect and was a top player in his day but he's never been a manager so he can never truly understands what it is like in terms of picking players," opined the Antrim man with a well disguised disdain. "I respect his opinion but I think the words were played out by my team. The performance was far from throwing the white towel in. Right to the very end my players put in a performance befitting of the wonderful club this is. That would be my answer."

Never one to miss an opportunity to get involved in the confounded mind games so favoured by his recently retired Glaswegian hero, José Mourinho made sure to use the situation to his advantage when presented with it in his own press conference, ahead of Chelsea's clash with Maribor. The unctuous Portuguese preener, whose David Brentian need to entertain and be the centre of attention is far worse than his Liverpool counterpart's, seized his chance to mock Rodgers without overtly seeming to do so. This, of course has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the Redmen host Mourinho's expensively assembled squad on Saturday. Nope. Absolutely nothing. Whatsoever.

"If Liverpool decide to rest players when they play against the European champions it's a question for the Liverpool manager, it's not a question for me. I don't speak about Liverpool," he offered, speaking about Liverpool. "I speak about myself. If one day I go to a game and I don't feel I can win, maybe I don't go. Normally, against the most difficult opponents, normally I will try to go with my best team."

There will be many amongst you nodding in agreement with Mourinho's sentiments, if not the manner of their expression. To see a team already shorn of last season's two greatest attacking threats take to the Bernabeu pitch without Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Mario Balotelli was a difficult sight for Liverpool fans to behold and an even more difficult concept for them to wrap their beleaguered brains around. Wasn't this what it was all about? The return to the very biggest stage and the chance to go and take on the European aristocrats in their own back yard? Isn't that the stuff of dreams, the kind of blazing emotional furnace in which legends are forged?

Instead, around the experienced but hardly inspirational trio of Martin Skrtel, Kolo Touré and Lucas Leiva, Rodgers filled out his starting eleven with inexperienced youngsters and Champions League novices. It was a startling and almost incomprehensible decision and yet the coherent possession football, dogged pressing and resolute defending of those chosen to wear the Red was almost enough to secure a positive result. Almost, however, is not good enough, and there will be many who stand beneath the Liverbird on match day, many devoted and informed fans of the club, who will have grave concerns about the manager's motivation.

Too often in the paragraphs of this column there has been a forensic analysis of the words of Brendan Rodgers. Elsewhere, his utterings have been dissected and analysed to suit an agenda. Invariably, it is the inclination of this, admittedly addled, scribbler to give the benefit of the doubt to a man tasked with a massive job of work. Rodgers, despite the pathetic revisionism of some commentators, has been a fine manager to date -- flawed and inexperienced, certainly -- but a more-than-capable leader of the club. His judgement this season has left him open to some valid criticism and that cannot be avoided.

This morning, there are ample platforms and multitudinous paragraphs dedicated to that very criticism. Each fan is free to add the weight of their own irritation to that. It is no longer the preserve of splenetic malcontents. However, although the stinging disappointment of the campaign to-date has left  us all understandably chary, this fan retains a belief that Rodgers will get things right in the long run. This is not some blind devotion but an informed appraisal based on his tenure thus far. We shall see who is ultimately correct.