Liverpool got their Europa League adventure off to an indifferent start with a disappointing draw with FC Bordeaux in France as Reds boss Brendan Rodgers made wholesale changes to the side that lost at Old Trafford last Saturday.
Scoreless after the first 45-minutes in which their hosts looked the more likely side, the Anfield outfit broke the deadlock just past the hour when Adam Lallana, who was making his first appearance since the win over AFC Bournemouth last month, shook off the rust to score a wonderful individual effort that had all the hallmarks of his productive last years at Southampton. One goal, of course, wouldn’t be enough and Willy Sagnol’s side would punish the visitors both for their wastefulness in front of the net and their inability to clear their lines when Jussie smuggled home an equalizer with just under 10-minutes left to play.
With one eye firmly on Sunday’s meeting with Norwich City, at the risk of being accused of devaluing the competition, Rodgers named a side filled with both youthful players and those on the fringes of the squad — and it came quite close to paying off.
Christian Benteke, Lucas, James Milner and Martin Skrtel were all high profile absentees as the likes of Alberto Moreno, Divock Origi and Mamadou Sakho, who was handed the captain’s armband, came in to the starting eleven. While there were mixed results with the more senior players, the Northern Irishman’s gamble on youth passed, for the most part, without incident as Jordan Rossiter played 80-minutes sitting in front of the defence before being replaced by another youngster in Cameron Brannagan and Pedro Chirivella making a surprise debut when he came in for Kolo Toure after the Ivorian suffered a dead leg in an unfortunate clash with Simon Mignolet.
Despite the switch in focus, goals remained hard to come by and the relative inexperience in the squad was a little too glaring at times as Bordeaux exploited the gaps as Rodgers reverted to the 3-4-3 formation that served him well during the second half of last season. Philippe Coutinho, restored to the starting eleven after serving a one match ban, hooked a shot just wide after good interplay with Origi and Diego Rolan caught everyone napping when he latched on to a diagonal pass before chipping just a touch too high over the on-rushing Mignolet as the two sides exchanged blows in a tense first half.
Both the Brazilian and the Uruguayan would come close to breaking the deadlock before the break with the former hitting the bar and the latter again shooting just over, but it would be Lallana, who saw his neat turn and shoot expertly blocked by Bordeaux ‘keeper Cédric Carrasso moments earlier, that would secure the go ahead.
After the 26-year old came up just short of his first goal this season, the French outfit looked to have bagged themselves the advantage when Maurice-Belay saw his initial effort from a Rolan cross saved by a sprawling Mignolet. Despite the Belgian’s best efforts, Enzo Crivelli looked good to put away the rebound, but his finish was lacking when it mattered the most — and Sagnol’s side would be ruing their luck within a matter of minutes.
Next to anonymous in the first 45-minutes, Lallana started to have a greater influence on proceedings after the break and he’d make it count when he picked up Moreno’s pass out on the left and nutmegged Pablo en-route to a precise side-footed finish that Carrasso had no chance of stopping. For Rodgers boys though, one goal is never close to being job done and yesterday wasn’t about to be the exception to that ever so frustrating rule.
Danny Ings, introduced for Origi with just over 15-minutes left to play, had a chance to seal the deal with a Rider Cup worthy chipped effort, but the Bordeaux ‘keeper was in no mood to make a second appearance on the Reds highlight reel. Instead, it’d be Jussie, brought on for the ailing Khazri just minutes before Ings stepped on the pitch, that would restore parity when a lack of communication between Joe Gomez and Emre Can saw Crivelli get the better of the pair before the Brazilian striker leveled proceedings with a measured finish.
Disappointing? Given the manner in which we gave up the equalizer, I’d say it was, but when you consider the personnel, there are a number of positives to be wrung out of the performance from almost everyone involved with Sakho’s reintroduction to the defence topping the very top of the top of the list. Although his place in the starting eleven at the weekend is far from assured, it’ll give Rodgers the kind of food for thought one can only hope he’ll make a meal out of.
Let’s hope he’s a hungry boy…