REWIND yourself back to April 2 years ago when Liverpool were on course for an all-English Europa League final.
Awaiting us would have been a Fulham side who were on the back of a heroic campaign under the tutelage of our future managerial flop Roy Hodgson. I was covering the game for a news website that day. I still remember the odd sense of apathy which filled the ground after Diego Forlan killed off our hopes of yet another Euro final.
I thought to myself, ‘why don’t we care? There’s a trophy at stake here and is that not what the culture of this great club is built on?’ We had gorged ourselves at the top table of European football for a few years and now indigestion had set in, decreasing our appetites for something less satisfying.
When Spurs came to town in our last league game of the following season, it was essentially a game in which the winner would secure a seat in the second tier of the European game. In a bi-polar season, we were on the up, Thursday night football was low on our priorities, building on a rapid improvement in league form was paramount for the year to come. There were no tears and few recriminations when the game was lost and the baton was passed.
The rise in popularity the competition enjoyed in the 2011/12 season stems from the refreshingly cerebral and intoxicating football that was performed. Wish lists were compiled of players on show such as Falcao, van Wolfswinkel, Javi Martinez, Muniain and many more. Games were enthralling, dribbling was back in vogue and if goals are your thing, this was the place to be.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder and when the 3rd qualifying round arrives, dreams of big Euro nights at Anfield will seem closer and more tangible. Of course we aspire for more but a run in this competition should not be discounted as it will give our less experienced charges greater exposure to the tactical and technical diversity which the players and young manager will surely take a great deal from in the clubs long term future.
When pressed as to how seriously he will be taking the cup competitions, both domestically and European, in comparison to the Premier League, Brendan Rodgers gave a response which is music to Reds fans ears:
“Very seriously. I’m one to believe if you are in it you want to try and win it, that’s my feeling on it. So I’ll have a squad of twenty-five players that I hope can see us being strong in every competition. The reality is we want to ensure that we can improve on our league status, that’s the reality. In the last three seasons the club has finished between sixth, seventh and eighth, so we want to improve on that and build it and move upwards. But like I say every game you are a player for Liverpool football club the intention is to win and like I say hopefully in the competitions as well we can do very well.”
With the odds of upsets in the Champions League short enough for even the most sensible of gamblers to have a flutter, 3rd placed sides find themselves parachuted into the second tier where we want to be lying in wait. Manchester United were one such team last season. We watched gleefully as Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente and co. did not just beat them; they beat them in style. Underestimate opponents like these at your peril, as it may be someone else who will tear up the script next year and we will need to be on our toes so it is not us who are the victims of the next footballing uprising.
Many critics of this competition gripe about playing on a Thursday night, meaning most of our league games will be contested on a Sunday or Monday. I can’t help but to agree with them; I don’t think I can stomach much of Gary Neville critiquing our play on MNF despite the mild satisfaction it gives me when his professionalism means he has to pay homage to our club at times! Weekends will be thrown out of kilter with the lack of Saturday action but once we are back in winning ways, few will mind.
For the television watching public, we have Stan Collymore’s never ending eulogies on the game, Jim Rosental’s satanic looking smug grin and Pat Nevin shivering outside in his cabin to look forward to on Channel 5′s quirky coverage. I’m especially looking forward to being informed by the commentary team of what Van Damme or Segal film will follow the game!
Of course I’m being glib. What we need to remember is this is another competition to compete in, therefore another potential trophy. Isn’t that the Liverpool way?
Brendan Rodgers quote: courtesy of 7M Sports video
Live4Liverpool is recruiting columnists. For further info contact the site editor at firstname.lastname@example.org