How Should Liverpool Treat the Europa League?
It would take a well versed Liverpool fan to recall the goal scorers in their last European knockout second leg tie; however, many will recall the circumstances.
A 3-1 victory on the night was not enough to see them progress to the next round – and on the eve of Liverpool’s first European return leg in two years, it is as good a time as any to consider how Liverpool will fair in the competition on this occasion.
Of course, tomorrows tie in Istanbul will not require any heroics to get through; a clean sheet would be job done; and clean sheets seem to have become the Reds’ speciality, particularly away from home. The current back three – not forgetting Mignolet – are currently enjoying a record breaking run, having not conceded away from home in 5 games.
Perhaps, after 2 and a half years of experimenting, Rodgers has found the right formula at the back, which serves those in it as well as it hinders those facing it – had the formation not changed, I very much doubt we would of seen the recent resurgence of Mignolet.
Going into European competition, having an on form keeper will be essential, especially in fixtures such as tomorrow’s trip to Istanbul. Whilst many would consider the city a symbol of Liverpool’s European history, it is important to remember that Turkish ultras do a good job of turning it into a cauldron of fire, flares, and anything they can lay their hands on. More than enough to distract a keeper and defence who aren’t having the best of times – thankfully not an issue that Liverpool face.
Looking at the bigger picture however, Liverpool will need a lot more than a good defence to string together a run in the Europa League. The less illustrious of the two European competitions, many would consider it to be more physical, more scrappy, and that’s not even to mention the travelling. Istanbul and Besiktas summarise perfectly what this competition is all about, and represent what Liverpool will face time and time again if they are to get to the latter stages.
And so to the inevitable question: have they got what it takes?
Based on league form, the answer would be a resounding yes. With Coutinho hitting form and young players such as Ibe coming into their own, it would be hard to say otherwise. The former I feel will be particularly influential; his ability to add flair to any occasion was highlighted at the weekend, and one would predict Liverpool may find them at deadlock at least once in the Europa League. It’s in these situations that the little magician finds the move that turns stalemate into checkmate.
That’s not to say he’s the only grandmaster in the Liverpool squad. Daniel Sturridge appears to be getting back to full speed, news that will spread fear as it resonates around Europe. Plus, having seen his dream of Champions League football ripped away by injury, he will no doubt be hungry to devour any opportunity that comes his way in this competition.
That is of course if the opportunities fall to him; and you’d have to say that they will: Liverpool have – since the turn of the year at least – become a serious attacking threat. Whilst many pundits will argue it is all down to the players, one man has remained resolute in his argument that it is the product of his system. Whilst some managers opt to develop their formation for European competition, I cannot see Rodgers tweaking a system that has served him well so far.
The Europa League evidently will raise many questions of Liverpool, and you would imagine each of the clubs components will be thoroughly scrutinized, not least in their return to knockout competition tomorrow night in the very stadium which holds memories to never be forgotten.
A bore draw tomorrow however would be more than enough to keep Reds fans happy, however quickly it is forgotten.
If the Europa League is to be Rodgers’ priority this season, he will be hoping that tomorrow night’s game is merely a stepping stone, a prologue of in a far greater story, which may well conclude on a summer’s day in Warsaw.