Of course the first concern is to re-establish ourselves in European competition in the first place; after all, last year we weren’t there at all, and this year we only got in by means of a penalty shoot-out. We’re obviously going to have to up our game in the Premiership; that’s too obvious to need saying.
But, looking back over the last ten or fifteen years, LFC have performed better in Europe than our Premiership form would suggest. Until we dropped out of the seemingly unchangeable ‘Top Four’, we were usually there or thereabouts in Europe, with that incredible Istanbul win and another final. It’s not that long since we smashed Real Madrid 5-0 on aggregate. Recently, we’ve usually looked more like winning against European teams than against our English rivals.
Partly it’s the quality of the Premiership itself; Liverpool get to play among the really big boys very frequently. Having to meet the ‘Terrible Manc Twins’ at least four times a season (last season it was seven) doesn’t half keep us on our toes. There’s the clear evidence that Liverpool find it easier to psych themselves up for Cup games, as against the weekly grind of the league; last season’s record against the Manc’s demonstrates that. Or possibly that the style we developed under 12 years of French and Spanish managers is better adapted to European football that to the domestic game.
I hope Brendan Rodgers continues that tradition. Obviously he needs to start by concentrating on the trench warfare of the Premiership struggle, and he’s already said that he’s not going to copy anybody, but play the Liverpool way. But the Euro 2012 tournament, though it wasn’t really the greatest of spectacles, did teach some stunning football lessons. The Spanish passing game, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t-and-you-can’t-have-it-anyway-señor, and the chain-mail Italian defence (until the Spanish finally prised it apart) must surely have impressed themselves greatly on the football world.
So I hope that, as well as getting stuck in every weekend, LFC will be able to draw some profit from a season of Thursday evenings playing at the ends of the earth. It’s going to make demands on the players’ stamina, but there are some good strong lads in the team (let’s hope there are some good strong hamstrings, ligaments and metatarsals as well). And, when we secure our fourth or even third place and get back into the European top flight, the lads will hopefully be able to give a good account of themselves as they always have, and brighten up our miserable British spring weather with some great European cliff-hangers in a year or two’s time!
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