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Champions League

Steven Gerrard “devastated” as Liverpool’s Real Madrid trip spelt beginning of the end


Liverpool looked to be onto a winner with Brendan Rodgers.

The Reds came agonisingly close to ending their Premier League title heartache under the Northern Irishman in the 2013/14 season.

Raheem Sterling burst onto the scene, Philippe Coutinho was at his swash-buckling best and Steven Gerrard remained captain and leader.

The future looked bright.

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But, as we all know, things turned sour – and the beginning of the end for both Rodgers and Steven Gerrard can be traced back to the last time Liverpool travelled to Real Madrid.

The two giants will meet in the Champions League knockout stages next month, and there is no doubt it will be a different story to the controversial one which unfolded in the Spanish capital on November 4, 2014.

Liverpool's last trip to take on Real Madrid in their own back yard caused controversy
Liverpool’s last trip to take on Real Madrid in their own back yard caused controversy

The Reds’ title challenge was already faltering after being hit by the loss of Luis Suarez to Barcelona in the summer, but Rodgers largely retained credit in the bank after the previous season.

Much of that credit was used up when, with thousands of fans making the journey to Madrid, he waved the white flag at the Bernabeu.

Despite beating Ludogorets Razgrad in their opening group game, an away defeat to Basel and home loss to Real Madrid had left Liverpool’s hopes of progress hanging by a thread.

With similar problems in the Premier League, their title charge was also at risk of being over before it had begun.

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Brendan Rodgers made seven changes to his starting line-up to take on the Spanish giants
Brendan Rodgers made seven changes to his starting line-up to take on the Spanish giants

Having lost 1-0 at Newcastle the previous weekend, and with a huge clash with Chelsea a few days later, Rodgers opted to make seven changes in Spain.

Gerrard, Coutinho, Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Mario Balotelli were all left on the bench.

Javier Manquillo, Lazar Markovic, Fabio Borini, Kolo Toure and Joe Allen were amongst those in the starting line-up.

“I was surprised by how many changes [they made],” Real Madrid star Gareth Bale told ITV after the match, whilst Gary Lineker said Rodgers had “thrown in a white towel”.

“Selecting a weakened side in Europe’s premier competition, especially against Real Madrid, is unbefitting of a club of Liverpool’s stature,” Lineker added.

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Rodgers angered fans and was accused of "waving the white flag" with his team selection
Rodgers angered fans and was accused of “waving the white flag” with his team selection

“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.”

Whilst the Reds put up an admirable fight, they were beaten by a first-half Karim Benzema goal and Rodgers faced obvious questions at full-time regarding his line-up.

“I didn’t see this as a big showcase game where I had to play the so-called names,” said Rodgers.

“It might have seemed a gamble but for me it wasn’t.”

Despite his initial defence, the worst-case scenario occurred.

When his big names were restored, they were beaten by Chelsea as well, losing 2-1 after taking an early lead via Emre Can.

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Mario Balotelli, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho were all amongst the substitutes
Mario Balotelli, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho were all amongst the substitutes

Lineker’s fears were realised, with Steven Gerrard amongst those clearly hurt by his omission.

The man who was once Liverpool’s undroppable star, their iconic leader on the biggest stage, was now left seriously contemplating his future.

It was the beginning of the end for Gerrard as well as Rodgers.

“This was round about the time when I was doing a lot of thinking about what’s next for me,” Gerrard later told Rio Ferdinand on a BT Sport documentary.

“I’d had a couple of initial chats with Brendan saying to me ‘I’m going to start managing your games and I have to look after you and I want you to be fresh and I don’t want you to be playing three games in a week because you may be tired’ and stuff like that.

Gerrard came on as a sub but Liverpool lost 1-0 and were beaten by Chelsea the following week
Gerrard came on as a sub but Liverpool lost 1-0 and were beaten by Chelsea the following week

“But this situation was a bit unique because it was Real Madrid and I wanted to play, and when I was told I wasn’t playing, for the sake of the team and the squad and my relationship with Brendan, I took it and I accepted it.

“But I sat on that bench devastated because I wanted to play so, it is one of those situations.

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“It sort of pushed me making a decision to move on and try something different.”

Defeat to Chelsea was followed by another defeat to Crystal Palace and Liverpool’s title dreams were in tatters.

In the Champions League, draws against Ludogorets and Basel in the final two games meant they failed to get out of the group.

Less than a year after coming within a whisker of the Premier League title, the wheels had come off in abrupt fashion and Rodgers was left to rue his controversial Bernabeu selection.

The game at the Bernabeu was the beginning of the end for Steven Gerrard
The game at the Bernabeu was the beginning of the end for Steven Gerrard

The Reds finished sixth in the Premier League table and were knocked out of the Europa League on penalties against Besiktas in the round of 32.

At the end of the season, Gerrard bid an emotional farewell to his boyhood club to join LA Galaxy, whilst Rodgers clung onto his job.

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By October of 2015, less than a year after his trip to Madrid, the Northern Irishman was sacked and replaced by Jurgen Klopp.

Klopp will now take his side back to Real Madrid, facing them for the first time in their own backyard since that fateful evening under Rodgers.

The two sides have, of course, met since with Real Madrid beating Klopp’s side in the Champions League final in Kiev in 2018.

The game will also not be played at the Bernabeu as Real Madrid’s home stadium undergoes drastic renovations whilst games are behind closed doors.

Plenty is different as Liverpool return to the Spanish capital, and you can be assured with the stakes high in the knockout stages Klopp will not make the same sort of mistakes his predecessor did all those years ago.





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