The Europa League campaign kicks off for Liverpool tomorrow in Macedonia in what could be an 19 game adventure, an exhausting schedule spread across the next 10 months. Of course, Hodgson himself is familiar with the route after taking unfancied Fulham to the Final last season in somewhat heroic fashion, knocking out Juventus, Wolfsburg and Shakhtar along the way.
The Europa League for Liverpool this year is a constant reminder of last seasons woeful display, a 3rd round qualifying tie in July with Macedonian team Rabotnicki comes with a hint of embarrassment for the reds, it’s a reality check and I hope this is a tie that the players will never want to repeat in coming seasons.
Taking part in Uefa’s watered down Europa League will pose more problems for a confidence shredded team, the fans will want the team to win the competition and rightly so, but in reaching the business end of the tournament Liverpool will face some tricky away ties and a fixture pile up at some point. Couple this with the fact that these European games are played on Thursday evenings, meaning that the league games are pushed back to a Sunday. This is a big disadvantage and adds more pressure to the players and Liverpool’s league performances, watching your rivals win on a Saturday makes it a psychological battle to win your game on the Sunday and this is all before I mention Channel 5 and Thursday nights. Sigh.
Looking at the fixture list, should Liverpool qualify for the Europa League and progress to the latter stages they could face a potential sticky patch in April with the Europa quarter finals sandwiched between league games against Arsenal and Man City. The other problem will be the trip to Old Trafford on Sunday 19th September, this game is 3 days after the first Europa League group match – fingers crossed LFC get a kind draw and start with a home tie (assuming they qualify).
Overall, Europe this year could prove to be an unwelcome distraction, looking at the bigger picture an early exit might just be a blessing in disguise for Hodgson’s men.