Europa League Changes Excite Liverpool
Nobody is on the edge of their seat to watch Europa League football, except Liverpool fans.
It has always been an established truth that the competition does not excite the typical football fan, which is the ugly step-sister to the beautiful Champions League, except that may now be changing for some English Premier League fans.
The almost-contenders in the EPL - of which I include Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham, Southampton and their like – now have a serious reason to do well in the Europa League. It has been announced that the winner of the Europa League will now be given a spot in the Champions League group stage the following year.
Suddenly, Brendan Rodgers and company have their beer goggles on and the ugly step-sister is looking much less ugly – more like a seven than a four. That being said, every other team in the Europa League will be licking their lips as well.
Liverpool has to be viewed as a serious threat to challenge for the Europa League crown this season. Their goals for the season are still a top-four finish and some silverware, but realistically speaking a top-six finish is more likely. Silverware? Possibly the FA Cup, but Europa would be an even more enticing trophy. Liverpool might even be able to double up on trophies by winning both competitions, although that is not likely.
Surely the recent return of Daniel Sturridge, who is proving why his absence was so rough on the team after having sold Luis Suarez, has helped Liverpool’s chance and strengthened their resolve. The recent goal for (Super) Mario Balotelli has many fans and pundits alike expecting him to return to his scoring ways as well, which would bode well for Liverpool to finish strong this season.
Mamadou Sakho and Emre Can have resurrected a lifeless Liverpool defence in the trendy three-centreback formation employed by so many clubs following Louis Van Gaal’s usage of the formation for the Netherlands at the recent World Cup.
Despite Simon Mignolet’s stellar play recently, the ‘Pool’s goalkeeping may still be their Achilles heel this season. Mignolet is inconsistent, if he is anything. He is capable of stringing together a month of top-class performances, followed by two months of low lights and errors.
Henderson had a few uncharacteristically-pedestrian performances recently, but he must re-find his steady consistency that has made him the natural successor to Steven Gerrard as captain.
There are still major question marks for Liverpool, and where exactly they rank among top EPL teams, let alone on the international football stage.
They can begin to answer some big questions with a deep run in the Europa League, and a solid finish domestically – whether that means an FA cup win or a top-four finish – but it is clear the time for performance is now.