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Missing out on Europe is now a good thing for top clubs

Three seasons ago, Liverpool almost sprang a surprise by winning the title under Brendan Rodgers.

Inspired by the partnership of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and a very young Raheem Sterling, Liverpool swept aside opposition amassing 84 points and scoring 101 goals in the process.

The 2013/14 side has a lot in common with Jurgen Klopp’s Reds this year. Both were focused on attacking football and outscoring the opposition and both used tactics built on running the opposition into the ground.

Both sides also didn’t have European football to contend with.

Last season was seen as a bedding-in period for Klopp as he was given just over six months in the league to introduce his style of play and run the rule over his new players.

The decision is paying dividends for two reasons as Liverpool are playing with a passion and dynamism that went missing towards the end of Rodgers’ reign, while they also have a lighter schedule to boot.

Excepting injuries, the German has been able to select his best side in every match and have them fresh and ready to run for 90 minutes.

This was demonstrated in the first game of the season where Liverpool scythed through an Arsenal side depleted by missing their Euro 2016 players and an Alexis Sanchez jaded by Chile’s Copa America success. Even now they are fourth in the league, just two points off leaders Manchester City.

The Reds aren’t the only side set to benefit from an eased fixture list this season, with Chelsea and Everton also free from any European conflicts.

The Blues and the Toffees are sat just below Liverpool in the table in fifth and sixth respectively and have also been able to field their strongest teams for the majority of the season.

It has certainly made the job slightly easier for new managers Antonio Conte and Ronald Koeman, who were both installed in the summer. But how much of a difference does a lack of European football make?

Chelsea fans can point immediately to the impact Diego Costa has made as to what a difference a relaxed start can make.

Diego Costa

The Spaniard is the league’s current top scorer with seven goals in eight games and has looked a lot more like the man who took the Premier League by storm when he first came to England in 2014/15.

Aside from looking sharper, Costa also seems to be managing his fitness a lot better. It’s early days, but the hamstring injuries that have plagued his last two seasons seem to be on the decline and the striker is completing 90 minutes more often.

Ronald Koeman has a smaller squad to work with than Klopp and Conte but has certainly been making the most of it. Barring a loss at Bournemouth and draw at Palace, Everton have looked in top form, tearing apart clubs lower in the table and holding their own against the top sides.

The Dutchman has been helped by having a side that is mostly fully-fit (Leighton Baines is the only player from the first eleven who is struggling) and is also able to rotate based on form.

Ross Barkley, for example, found himself on the bench against Manchester City last weekend. This could have been a tactical move from Koeman to nullify Guardiola’s midfield, but what is just as likely is that the midfielder was dropped for lack of form.

Ronald Koeman

If Everton had Europe to contend with he may well have had to use an out-of-sorts Barkley in some form to prevent another player getting tired.

Some might say Klopp, Conte and Koeman will have a tougher time keeping their squads happy with less game time. In reality however, the opposite could happen – with less opportunities to get on the pitch and showcase their abilities, players may well work harder in training and put in improved performances when they get the chance.

This has already been the case at Chelsea with Victor Moses.

The Nigerian has been a bit-part player so far in his Chelsea career and hadn’t made any league appearances in the three seasons prior to this one, instead being shipped on loan to Liverpool, Stoke and West Ham.

Many expected the winger to be on his way when Conte arrived but the Italian had clearly seen something in Moses to keep him around. At first the Nigerian was making do with cameos off the bench but he has recently taken the right-midfield slot in Chelsea’s new 3-4-3 formation and looks set to continue for the time being, especially after scoring against Leicester last weekend.

Having no European football is certainly benefitting Liverpool, Chelsea and Everton for a number of different reasons and it will be interesting to see how fresh they are come the winter fixture pile-up.

If they are in as strong a position then as they are now, we may well see a few surprise names at the top come May.

Article title: Missing out on Europe is now a good thing for top clubs

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