Liverpool: Why The Europa League IS Important This Season

"Unlike in 2001, the winner now qualifies for the Champions League"...
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"Unlike in 2001, the winner now qualifies for the Champions League"...

With so many running plot lines and backstories, it’s difficult to begin with what to expect with Liverpool this season. From a team going so painfully close to the title and then returning to upper-mid table mediocrity, it’s like riding a roller-coaster with a blindfold at times. So what would actually constitute a good season for Liverpool then? There’s the divide of fans that simply just want Champions League qualification and then those who want silverware with a good finish in the league to boot.

Those who demand silverware and trophies always say that as long as a fairly decent position is cemented in the league- they will be happy as long as cup competition is won, with obvious preference to the FA Cup or the Europa League. It’ll be 10 years since Liverpool last won the Greatest Cup Competition In The World™ so the fans will argue that they’re due one.

The Europa League meanwhile is a winnable competition, make no mistake. Get a good draw and you can go far in this tournament. Liverpool have enough quality to win it, and considering what it did for the club when they last won it during the 00/01 treble season; it gave the club it’s identity in Europe back, something which had been missing since Heysel and the UEFA ban placed on Liverpool. With famous victories over Barcelona and Roma, it gave a sense of belief back to the fans; they went on to finish second in the league the next season, their highest position in the league for the best part of a decade.

And of course, there’s the added cherry on top, unlike in 2001, the winner now qualifies for the Champions League. Surely this is easier than deposing one of Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal or Manchester United? Not to say that Liverpool can’t do this, but considering the immense pressure that Rodgers is under; a good, composed and convincing run in Europe may turn out to be his safety net, not a big one, but something to fall back on at the very least.

With the team looking a lot stronger than last year (on paper at least) one of these targets must be met, no near misses. Either Rodgers must win a trophy or finish in the Top 4; anything less than this and he’s out as far as I can see. He’s been given a second chance and a lifeline that would be envious to most managers, but the fans are sharpening their pitchforks in anticipation of the coming season, which is never a good sign. To go from such an exciting team and style of play to the shocking dross offered up last season, there has to be a return to the former as well.

The Champions League was clearly a step too far for Rodgers who had his first taste of the competition last year and was outmatched by the class and quality of Real Madrid, even the slippery Basel where too much for him. The Europa League is a really good opportunity for him to learn where he went wrong and with the chances of playing ‘lesser’ teams in the Group Stages, they’re good morale-building exercises too.

Get to the Quarter Finals and you start believing you can win it, and why not? You’ve made it this far. With the firepower of Benteke, Sturridge and Firmino, they can match the majority of teams in the Europa League, even those who stumble down from the Champions League.

A win in the Europa League would also get a lot fans back onside with Rodgers, who isn’t exactly popular after questions over his credentials as a manager at this level, his motivation skills and transfer dealings. It will bring him a much needed first trophy as Liverpool manager and show that he has indeed learnt his lesson in Europe and may very well be ready to take on the Champions League with this experience behind him, and give him and indeed the fans the acknowledgement that he is in fact good enough for this level after all.

When Chelsea won the competition back in 2013, a lot of hate and venom against Rafa Benitez was wiped away with a Europa League win. Brendan Rodgers must now do the same.