Liverpool were back in the Champions league, the European atmosphere was back at Anfield, the Champions League music was back, and the silly big Champions League flag thing on the centre circle was back and Liverpool were back doing it the hard way.
Rodgers got half the formation correct this time, compared to the weekend against Aston Villa, we at least got three into midfield with Coutinho in what I believe to be his best position joining Gerrard and Henderson in the deeper roles, but we still failed to get two up front preferring to leave Balotelli as alone striker with Sterling and Lallana out wide.
The first half was similar to the weekend we did look more solid due to three in midfield but we were again struggling to create any clear chances with Balotelli again looking isolated and having to come out of the central areas to see any of the ball, he needs a partner and both Lallana and Sterling are more effective at number 10, central instead of on the edge of the game on the wings. Coutinho was having a poor game, but I still believe he did enough to show that this is his best position and Liverpool are better with the three in central midfield.
Before the game the atmosphere inside Anfield was electric with the support determined to enjoy the return to the Champions League but by half time frustration seemed to be the overriding emotion of most inside the ground, again we were ok, seeing lots of the ball, again we were creating little or nothing.
No changes were made at half time so obviously nothing changed, again lots of possession and next to nothing created. Eventually Rodgers made the substitutions and more importantly the formation change with Borini and Lucas taking to the field and immediately the chances started to come with Balotelli now having a partner with two playing up front and Sterling allowed to play in his most threatening position behind the front two at the point of the diamond. when Balotelli dropped deeper for the ball we now
still had somebody pushing on and when balls came into the box there was more chance of a Liverpool player getting on the end of it, Borini and Henderson both had good chances with headers before Balotelli turned in the box and found a great finish to give Liverpool the lead.
It looked like Liverpool had grabbed three points but we had all forgotten the other mistake that Rodgers makes regularly. We forgot that Lucas and Gerrard can't play together and when they do teams can stroll through the centre of midfield, we had compounded this by going back to 4-4-2 and leaving only two players in midfield again we know this doesn't work so when Sterling naively lost the ball the Ludogarets right back strolled the full the length of the pitch straight down the middle and was allowed to play a through ball to the forward Abalo who strolled past that hopelessly out of position centre backs around the keeper who for reasons only known to himself chose now as the time to charge of his line to equalise. 1-1 and in injury time surely that was it.
But once again we had forgotten, forgotten that this is Liverpool and if we have anything it's character and of course Liverpool in Europe can never be written off. We love doing it the hard way so when Manquillo showed a great attitude in chasing down the keeper who made a daft mistake and clipped his legs, we had no doubt that captain Gerrard would save us once again as he cooly slotted the resulting penalty to give us the three points.
Three points and once again we are shown that Lucas and Gerrard can't play together, we need three in centre midfield, we need two up front and the 4-4-2 diamond is the best formation for the players we have. But we won we are back in The Champions League, there will be tougher challenges ahead but hopefully we will have developed as a team in time to meet those challenges head on.