We must rise to challenge – Rodgers

LONDON - Brendan Rodgers has challenged his Liverpool players to rise to the occasion when they face holders Real Madrid in a crucial Champions League showdown at Anfield tonight.

Rodgers's side can't afford to lose any more ground in the race to qualify for the knockout stages after a shock loss against Basel in their previous Group B match.

The Reds have been well below their best of much of the season and there were more worrying signs for Rodgers on Sunday when QPR, the Premier League's bottom club, out-played Liverpool for long periods of an chaotic encounter.

Liverpool eventually won 3-2 despite twice squandering the lead in the final minutes.

Given Liverpool's defenders had huge trouble with QPR's willing but limited strike partnership of Bobby Zamora and Charlie Austin, it would be no surprise if Rodgers had suffered a few sleepless nights contemplating how his creaky defence will deal with Real's breathtaking array of attacking talent.

Even if Wales winger Gareth Bale is sidelined by a buttock muscle injury, Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti has Cristiano Ronaldo in arguably the best form of his majestic career, while the likes of Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric comprise a formidable support act for the spotlight-hogging Portugal star.

Ronaldo has broken a 71-year La Liga record by scoring 15 goals in the first eight matches of the season and is also just two short of Real legend Raul's Champions League record of 71 goals.

With a trip to Madrid next up in a fortnight, Rodgers knows a defeat on Wednesday would leave Liverpool in severe danger of bowing out of the competition at the first hurdle.

Yet European nights at Anfield, when the club's supporters routinely pump up the decibel count to ear-splitting levels, remain a unique experience that can unnerve even the most seasoned performers.

Rodgers hopes the do-or-die nature of the tie, combined with the Anfield atmosphere, will lift his team out of their current malaise.

"Whenever you play in the big games the great competitors come out and I have no doubt with my players as their mentality is very strong," Rodgers said.

"It is a really exciting game on Wednesday. The work we put in over the last season or so means this is our reward but it is a game we want to go and win.

"Anfield is a special place for a Champions League football game and we are really looking forward to it.

"But you have to be careful - they are the best counter-attacking team in the world with the speed they have."

In contrast to Liverpool's lethargic performances of late, Madrid arrive on Merseyside in imperious form.

Ancelotti's side have won their last seven matches in all competitions, scoring 32 goals in the process after routing Levante 5-0 on Saturday. – Reuters

Tonight (all 8:45pm kick-off)

Leverkusen v Zenit, Monaco v Benfica, Olympiakos v Juventus, Anderlecht v Arsenal, Atlético Madrid v Malmö, Ludogorets v FC Basel, Galatasaray v Dortmund, Liverpool v Real Madrid

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