Rodgers claims stars could remain benched for Chelsea visit

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Kieran Canning
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Madrid (AFP) - Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers warned some of his star players their place in the side for the visit of Chelsea on Saturday is far from assured after a battling performance by their understudies in a 1-0 defeat to Real Madrid.

Rodgers controversially dropped captain Steven Gerrard, Mario Balotelli and Raheem Sterling to the bench amongst seven changes from the side that lost 1-0 to Newcastle on Saturday.

Karim Benzema's first-half goal was enough for the European champions to seal their place in the Champions League last 16 with a 12th consecutive victory in all competitions.

However, after a disappointing start to the season, Rodgers was heartened by the performance of his side and claimed some of those who started have played themselves into contention to face the Premier League leaders at the weekend.

"Tonight gives me great food for thought. It wasn't players rested as such, we played the team we thought could get the result," he said.

"We haven't been consistent enough for too many players to be in the team as guaranteed starters.

"The players know the name is irrelevant to me, for me it is about performance, and if a player is playing well I focus on that.

"I don't focus on what people may say. I focus on my team, my players and what is best for them."

Basel's 4-0 thrashing of Ludogorets Razgrad in the other game in the group on Tuesday leaves Liverpool three points adrift of the Swiss champions in the race to join Madrid in the last 16.

Liverpool travel to Bulgaria to face Ludogorets next time out and Rodgers is hoping to set up a winner takes all clash with Basel at Anfield on matchday six.

"When the draw was made we thought it would go down to the last game against Basel. We have to win our next game to bring it down to that game hopefully," added Rodgers.

"Tonight was a great performance, we didn't get the result our team deserved, but we still have a big chance to progress."

Real coach Carlo Ancelotti backed the five-time winners to still make it through and insisted his side wouldn't take things easy on Basel and Ludogorets in their remaining two games in the group.

"We have two games to play and we haven't secured first place. We will prepare the games as always to respect the competition," said the Italian.

"All the teams have quality. Given their history you would give Liverpool more chance but they need to win the two games and I don't think it will be easy."

As well as securing their passage to the knockout phase, Madrid were also boosted by the return of Gareth Bale from injury after a five-game layoff.

The Welshman was introduced as a substitute for the final half hour and looked lively as he struck the crossbar and forced Simon Mignolet into a fine save from a dipping free-kick.

"After an injury of this type (pelvic muscle) I wanted to give him 30 minutes and he didn't have any problems. He will start on Saturday."