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Brendan Rodgers, Emre Can and Co. Slammed by Steve Nicol, UEFA Penalty Mooted

Nick Akerman@NakermanFeatured ColumnistNovember 5, 2014

Liverpool's head coach Brendan Rodgers takes his seat before a Group B Champions League soccer match between Real Madrid and Liverpool at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday Nov. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

Former Liverpool defender Steve Nicol has called Brendan Rodgers' decision to field a weakened team against Real Madrid "mind blowing," particularly because the Northern Irishman placed major praise on his side afterwards.

Nicol spoke to talkSPORT's Extra Time show, reported by Nick Rostron-Pike, where he suggested Rodgers' decision to rotate will have put distance between him and many Liverpool supporters:

What he did, against Real Madrid, is put a lot of fans against him. The owners will persevere with him. I don’t think, by any strength of the imagination, he won’t be there at the end of the season, but he’s alienated a lot of fans.

Paul White/Associated Press

Rodgers called the performance "excellent" after the match, per Daniel Taylor of The Guardian, despite Liverpool managing four shots to Madrid's 27 and retaining just 40.7 percent of possession, recorded by WhoScored.com.

The Reds showed decent fight, particularly Kolo Toure, but Nicol suggests the second string didn't offer enough to become starting contenders for Saturday's match with Chelsea, per Rostron-Pike:

The man of the match was Simon Mignolet. Emre Can was a disgrace, he didn’t get out of trot. Lazar Markovic looked lightweight at best and was man handled every time he touched the ball. Javi Manquillo was chasing Marcelo’s number all night.

Former Tottenham striker and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker was also vocal about Rodgers' decisions, as noted on Twitter:

Gary Lineker @GaryLineker

Rodgers has left out Henderson, Sterling, Balotelli, Gerrard and Coutinho at Real Madrid. He has, though, thrown in a white towel.

Gary Lineker @GaryLineker

Selecting a weakened side in Europe's premier competition, especially against Real Madrid, is unbefitting of a club of Liverpool's stature.

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Gary Lineker @GaryLineker

If I were one of Liverpool's star players, I'd be choked to be left out of a game at the Bernabeu against the European Champions.

An article in Spanish newspaper AS went even further, per Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC:

Dermot Corrigan @dermotmcorrigan

AS editorial today calls Rodgers team selection last night "a crime against Liverpool's history".

Eurosport raised the question as to whether Liverpool could receive punishment from UEFA for failing to field their best lineup.

Paul White/Associated Press

As noted in the aforementioned publication's report, Rule 4.01 of the governing body's jurisdiction reads: "On entering the competition, participating clubs agree to play in the competition until their elimination and to field their strongest team throughout the competition."

Rodgers outlined his plan for Gerrard prior to the match, which suggested he would take part in the fixtures with Newcastle and Chelsea at the expense of Madrid, per David Maddock of the Mirror.

This could be construed as the manager deliberately prioritising the Premier League before Europe, perhaps hammered home with the absence of Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson, providing UEFA with a potential decision to make.

Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

Such a ruling has always appeared harsh, however. UEFA provides each club with a squad size, so it is ridiculous to suggest any player included has a lesser right to take to the field.

If Jose Mourinho decides to rest Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas ahead of the Liverpool tie, it's unlikely he would receive the same attention due to Chelsea's standing at the top of their group.

Tottenham and Wimbledon were fined £90,000 and £60,000 respectively for putting out weakened teams during the 1996 edition of the Intertoto Cup, per Eurosport.

Wolves famously received a £25,000 punishment for doing the same against Manchester United in the Premier League, which saw Mick McCarthy rest 10 players ahead of a crunch victory over Burnley in 2010.

Rodgers' decision could pay dividends if Liverpool overcome Mourinho's unbeaten Blues. Although the club aren't traditionally used to setting up without the intention of victory, all will be forgotten if they triumph over the Premier League leaders.

Such a result would justify Rodgers' risk and force many to admit his management worked. If victory doesn't arrive, however, the Northern Irishman will have plenty to answer for. 

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