With just one win from six Champions League showings and one point from two games with major group rivals Basel, Liverpool, in truth, deserved nothing more than elimination before the knockout phase. The result at Anfield last night, 1-1, was one goal shy of what was needed for the Kopites to witness more top level European action this season, but Ludogorets’ loss against Real Madrid made sure that Europa League football awaits.
Often criticised for being the Champions League’s runt sibling, the second tier of UEFA’s club tournament is heralded as a hindrance by many, yet it may offer Liverpool something worth focusing on… and here are FIVE reasons why.
Even though this season’s Champions League campaign was a disaster for Liverpool, the ultimate aim is to ensure that another shot, actually the financial gain, is secured for next season. Qualification via a top four finish in the Premier League – the traditional route – may be a tricky one his term given the Reds’ stuttering start, but the Europa League presents an alternative way in. The winners this season will book a spot at the big table for 2015/16, which could be possible for a team of Liverpool’s stature. The prize on offer may prompt other sides to take the competition seriously as well, so Brendan Rodgers will have his work cut out.
Rodgers’ first season at Anfield was one in which Europa League football was on the agenda, and the Northern Irishman used the competition to give youngsters experience. The likes of Suso, Jonjo Shalvey and Andre Wisdom were regulars through the group stage, which gave them vital experience, while allowing the Merseysiders to keep established stars fresh for weekend action. Nowadays Rodgers has a crop of new fringe and youth stars pressing for game time, with Jordan Rossiter a name some sections of the Kop are keen to see more of over the coming months.
Liverpool are still in with a shot at the Capital One Cup, FA Cup and, well mathematically, the Premier League title, but the Europa League offers, perhaps, one of their best shots at a trophy. The League Cup quarter-final awaits next week, which offers the best chance, but with the Reds’ form now at a major low, a defeat to Bournemouth is not the most unrealistic is scenarios. By the time continental football is back, Daniel Sturridge should be fit again, which will be a major boost for the Merseysiders.
For all the pot-shots and criticism aimed at the Europa League, it’s still a big competition and one that attracts attention from across the continent. Liverpool have a great history in European competition, and another pot to add to the collection will be of welcome relief to the fans, who are yet to witness a Rodgers side claim a major honour.
Although more games could be a hindrance for Liverpool, winning tends to breed more winning. As it is, the Merseysiders need to build some confidence, and the only way to do that is through performing well. The Europa League presents a good chance to get momentum going if the draw is kind, which could be of benefit to Rodgers’ side.