Nothing less than a win will do against Udinese for Liverpool boss Rodgers
22:30 GMT, 5 December 2012
Brendan Rodgers has challenged his players to deliver the victory in Udine that he believes is vital to preserve Liverpool’s European reputation.
Liverpool will be guaranteed a place in the Europa League’s round of 32 if they beat Udinese on Thursday, regardless of what happens in Group A’s other game between Anzhi Makhachkala and SBC Young Boys, and their manager is determined to secure that objective.
Having seen Manchester City tumble out of Europe this week, Rodgers does not want to be in the position of heading into 2013 with Liverpool in a similar predicament. It is why he will pick a strong team here that will be spearheaded by leading striker Luis Suarez.
Raring to go: Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool side face Udinese in their final Europa League game
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Reina: Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Enrique: Henderson, Sahin, Shelvey: Sterling, Suarez, Downing.
Referee – D Gomes (Portugal)
Most of all, though, Rodgers feels Liverpool need a win to remind a wider audience that their name still carries weight on the continent and he does not want see the club’s status being diminished by an early elimination.
‘This is a club that over the years has had a terrific association with European football,’ Rodgers said. ‘It is important for us in our present and future that we can have as much involvement into the latter stages of these competitions as much as we can because this is what this great history is all about
‘I would be bitterly disappointed if we don’t get through. I have understood where are priorities are but this is a club that is stepped in the tradition of Europe. The Europa League is a great tournament.
‘Everyone wants to be in the Champions League but if you asked the players and supporters back in 2001 when they won it: “did you enjoy it” well, I’m sure they did. The main outcome for us is to qualify.
‘If we can do that, it would be terrific achievement considering everything that went on at the beginning of the season. If we can get through, we can then push on into next year.’
Up against it: A win for Liverpool will clinch qualification regardless of results elsewhere
Club captain Steven Gerrard has missed the trip to Italy through illness, while key midfielder Lucas and influential defender Daniel Agger have been rested but, even though Liverpool face a trip to West Ham on Sunday, squad rotation is not part Rodgers’ thinking.
‘I always pick a team to win because I want to do well in the competition,’ said Rodgers. ‘This has been my first opportunity to work in Europe as a manager. I, along with my staff and players, have enjoyed every minute of it. We all want to qualify.
‘I am not crying that we have got games on a Thursday and a Sunday. I have really enjoyed travelling and seeing our supporters come with us. I think it has been brilliant. It is in our hands and that is all we could want.’
Rodgers, meanwhile, is ready to reward the improvement Brad Jones has shown this season by offering him a new contract.
The Liverpool goalkeeper, who moved to Anfield in August 2010, is entering the final six months of his contract but Rodgers does not want him to leave, as he believes Jones plays a crucial role in supporting Pepe Reina.
Game on: Nuri Sahin, Jordan Henderson, Pepe Reina and Luis Suarez train in Italy
Jones made seven consecutive appearances in the autumn when Reina was sidelined with a hamstring problem and Rodgers said: ‘Brad is someone I would like to keep. His contract is something we are looking at. We are looking to offer him that.’
Reina, according to Rodgers, remains “Liverpool’s number one” and has no worries about the Spaniard’s form. There were a few occasions earlier in the campaign when he looked out of sorts but his manager believes that is behind him.
‘Pepe will admit himself that he probably had a difficult couple of years but he now has a sense of his best years are in front of him – not behind him – and it is a great testament to him that he is now working harder than ever,’ said Rodgers.
‘He has lost weight, he looks fresh and bright; he is doing extra work and it is a great step forward to him and his commitment in terms of him staying at Liverpool.’