Thursday, 24 March 2011

Do Liverpool really need the Europa League?

A week ago today Liverpool miserably failed to progress into the quarterfinals of the Europa League having endured a humiliating stalemate against little known Portugese side SC Braga. Thanks to that embarrassing aggregate defeat and the peculiarities of the FA Cup draw Liverpool must now finish fifth if they are to play European football next season, a feat which seems unlikely considering the four point gap between us and fifth placed Tottenham, who have played a game less than the Merseysiders.

With the Reds facing the very real possibility of missing out on a place in Europe for the first time in over a decade, the question arises; do Liverpool really need the Europa League?

Of course Champions League qualification, although incredibly unlikely, would be preferable, as dining at the top table of European football is quite possibly the pinnacle of world football, and the extra revenue it inevitably provides would be more than welcome. Conversely, it is painfully obvious that the Europa League is UEFA's secondary competition, with many of the big teams who find themselves in it prioritising their domestic league and cup competition above the much-maligned Europa League.

The demanding schedule of the Europa League can put a significant strain on any squad, particularly one as weak and thin as Liverpool's. UEFA wishes to keep the Champions League and Europa League on separate days in order to maintain the prestige and glamour of the former, however the latter suffers as the gruelling cycle of games every Thursday and Sunday inevitably takes its toll, lessening the quality of the competition and increasing the likelihood of debilitating injuries.

Should the Reds fail to qualify for the Europa League then next season we can fully concentrate our energies on performing well in the Premier League and returning to our rightful spot in the top four, hence securing Champions League qualification and providing a firm basis from which to challenge for number 19 in future seasons.

Liverpool have suffered most after the break up of the traditional big four and, with Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur also flexing their expensive muscles, the fight for a top four finish will be fierce and competitive next season. A break from European football could benefit us by allowing us to intensify our efforts in the League.

On the other hand, Liverpool desperately need to reinvigorate the squad with several summer signings to boost both the starting line-up and the subs' bench, and a lack of European competition will almost certainly put off many potential new signings. Although the Reds can offer tradition, history and now, thanks to our new American owners, money, top level European football is coveted by all world class players, and a season away from the European spotlight could prove detrimental to our efforts to rebuild the squad.

Also, failing to qualify for at least the Europa League could test the patience of players like Pepe Reina to the limit. The 28-year old keeper is approaching the peak of his career and surely will not enjoy a European exile, no matter how brief it may turn out to be. The Spaniard is a key component of our side and our squad would be significantly weakened should he decide to leave in the summer.

Most importantly, dropping out of Europe for a season would dramatically demonstrate our rapid decline during the Premier League years. Although we remain the country's most successful club, with 18 League titles and five European cups substantiating our claim of being a big club, Manchester United, Chelsea and, to a lesser extent, Arsenal are the main challengers for the top honours currently. Without European football our claim to be a major player in English football appears feeble and unconvincing.

Although a break from the hectic nature of the Europa League could prove beneficial domestically, European football is a part of the Reds' heritage and would be sorely missed.

The Liverpool Way instils an inherent respect for the value of European competition and honours and, should the Reds fail to finish fifth, next season will be like a bog-standard banquet lacking the flavour and beauty that the wine of Europe brings.


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