Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Importance of Being Europa for Liverpool

By Lee Jaundrell 13/2/2013

Liverpool will kick off in Russia Thursday teatime, with a clear intention of taking the remainder of their Europa League campaign seriously. This season as seen a familiar path throughout, encouraging displays giving momentum to a growing side, being curtailed by a shocking result. See Aston Villa, Oldham and on Monday evening West Brom. Liverpool had come from a good display away to Arsenal and excellent display away to the Champions Man City, only to stutter once more at home to the baggies.

Liverpool weren’t terrible at home to West Brom; they just couldn’t turn possession and territory into goals. If a penalty had not been missed, the game could easily of faded into a 1-0 home win, a forgettable match but 3 points, onwards and upwards to the next league game at home to Swansea, and maybe a late season surge towards Champions League football. But Foster saved Gerrard’s spot kick and half of Liverpool’s fans are up in arms.

The Europa League game against Zenit St Petersburg now takes on greater significance. A cup win couldn’t save Dalglish his job, but even though Rodgers shouldn’t fear for his job, the Europa League could give him a chance to prove that his Liverpool have that winning mentality.

Rodgers hasn’t had the same backing as Dalglish with regards transfers, but there has been ample money spent. The outlay on Borini, Allen, Sturridge and Coutinho is the best part of £50million, yet only Sturridge is a guaranteed regular starter. Sturridge and Coutinho will not be available for Liverpool on Thursday, but Allen and Borini should start.

The tie against Zenit will be a tough prospect, Russian football has come a long way in the past 10 years, floods of money invested by giant corporations, including Gazprom who own Zenit, has made the Russian sides strong.  Zenit themselves won the second string European trophy in 2008, which followed on from CSKA Moscow who won it in 2005. Liverpool will need to be on their game, and will most likely need to be ruthless in front of goal and solid at the back. Liverpool have conceded at least 2 goals in 5 of their last 6 games.

What was seen as an inconvenient burden a few days ago is now the most important game of Liverpool’s season. Win the Europa League and optimism will be strong in Liverpool and in Rodgers. Lose to Zenit and it’s a disastrous season, one that could be difficult for an inexperienced manager to turn around next season.