Can we compete on three fronts? If not, which competition should we put less effort into or even ditch? This is the dilemma Liverpool and manager Brendan Rodgers faces ahead of an upcoming gruelling schedule including important and difficult league games aswell as matches in the Europa League and the FA Cup.
My answer to the first question is: No, Liverpool is not good enough, or rather, has not the squad depth to battle successfully in all three competitions. That leads to the second topic, and to that one there is no clear-cut or obvious reply. The answer lies in the future. Or to put it in other words: It depends how Liverpool fare in the different competitions in the near future. For instance, if the Reds are eliminated by Besiktas in the Europa League come Thursday next week then it´s a non-issue. If not, the three front question lives on. But soon enough a decision of how to address it must be made otherwise it´s a risk Liverpool gets over-worked and fails on all three fronts.
Through the years the Europa League has often been treated by fans and clubs as a distraction or even a nuisance rather than something big to win. But starting this season this has changed. At least it should have. And it is a huge reason why. The winners of the competition qualifies for the Champions League next season. In other words, a really big prize awaits besides the actual trophy.
This fact has made it more difficult to pinpoint which tournament is the least important. And there are couple of other factors to complicate things.
Since he came to Liverpool Brendan Rodgers has stressed that we are a winning club, a club that should be collecting trophies. If we just focus on that then this season the FA Cup is the competition to give it all in, where we should pick the strongest possible side. As we all know Liverpool is just three wins from lifting the cup at Wembley. The other possible trophy is the Europa League but to achieve that the Reds must get past five teams, some really good ones at that, and play nine matches. A far more complicated task than to grab the FA Cup where we ”just” need to down Championship side Blackburn and then only Manchester United or Arsenal is left as a really tough opponent.
But even if it would be great to win the FA Cup, and get an emotional final match farewell for Steven Gerrard on his 35th birthday, there is only shortlived honours and joy as rewards. A Europa league win offers something more tangible and long-term since Liverpool then gets the opportunity to play in the biggest European competition in the autumn. And with that follows huge financial benefits. And the money is of course an important part of a successful football club. Furthermore, a team participating in the CL has a greater chance to sign top players.
And if this cup problem wasn´t enough there is a league to consider. Here is also a CL place possible to gain if a top four finish is managed. But to just focus on the league can backfire. And it has to do with our current position in the table. Liverpool is seventh and must leapfrog three teams, probably Tottenham, Arsenal and Southampton, to land in fourth. A pretty taxing toil.
If we dispose all energy on this assignment, then it´s a huge risk that we fail to land either the FA Cup or the Europa League. And even if Liverpool play well and put in all possible effort to reach top four a success is far from guaranteed. So a league assault can mean that we end up empty-handed come May 30. No FA Cup, no Europa League and no top four finish.
The three front issue seems unsolvable right now. Especially as there is a lot of possible scenarios in the coming weeks.
As I´ve already written in this entry an immidiate elimination from the Europa League takes care of the dilemma. If we lose to Blackburn in the FA Cup sixth round in the beginning of March and progress in the Europa League then the predicament remains but a little less demanding. If Liverpool lose, let´s say three league games on the trot, then the top four finish is all but gone and we can focus on the other two competitions. This is three possible future events. There are plenty more.
If the Reds keeps on winning, as the team has done in recent times, then it will be almost impossible to know if one competition should be forgotten or if we should try to do well in all three and risk burning out our major players aswell as getting injuries. Even if we escape injuries a recurring rotation will be needed and then the calibre of the squad will definetely appear. Hopefully high standard shines through but I am afraid the quality is insufficient. I would be delighted to be wrong on that score but whatever happens:
We Go Again.