Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers will prioritise Sunday’s Premier League home match with Man United as his side travel to Switzerland for their first Europa League group match against Young Boys of Bern on Thursday.
Key players including captain Steven Gerrard, goalkeeper Pepe Reina, top scorer Luis Suarez, midfielder Joe Allen and defenders Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson are all set to remain on Merseyside.
It is in contrast with the Reds’ last Europa League outing when the likes of Suarez and Gerrard played the full 90 minutes at home to Hearts, then both struggled to find form as Arsenal won 2-0 at Anfield three days later.
Perhaps Rodgers has learnt from that, or perhaps he placed greater importance on the Hearts game in order to ensure Europa League qualification, either way, it seems the Premier League will take priority from now on – especially in this instance with United the visitors on Sunday.
The Europa League will now offer an opportunity for several youngsters. Already Rodgers has explained that German forward Samed Yesil will be “fast-tracked” and he – alongside Adam Morgan, Dani Pacheco, Suso and Andre Wisdom – will all travel as part of the squad to face YB.
The management of players following Europa League games on a Thursday night will be something Rodgers will need to look closely at this season. A study earlier this year concluded that teams who have only two days recovery between games – as is the case with all Europa matches – are less likely to win their following game, and that the team scores 70% less and concedes 75% more in the last half an hour of their next match.
Arsenal scored their second goal during that period of play, and Liverpool looked unlikely to score. The key trio of Gerrard, Allen and Suarez played the full 90 minutes in both matches.
Watching the return of Champions League football last night, recalling how it’s little over three years since it was us visiting the Bernabeu (and winning) was a little depressing. But as much, or little, as we care about the Europa League, it needs to be used as a method of bringing our emerging youth players into first-team contention. Jack Robinson for instance made one first-team appearance last season.
It’s also a chance for the likes of Jordan Henderson, who has fallen below Jonjo Shelvey in the midfield pecking order, to show Rodgers what he is capable of. Again, it’s a stark contrast to last season when Henderson made more first-team appearances than any Liverpool player. Maybe with less pressure on him he will thrive and take personal responsibility to take the lead in the Europa games.
It’s also encouraging to see Rodgers not use Pepe Reina for this fixture. One criticism of Kenny Dalglish last season was his overuse of the keeper for the Cup games, which also meant that when Reina was later unavailable our two back-up keepers had neither played a first-team game of football for over a year.
We have tough League games after several Europa fixtures too. Following Udinese at home we host Stoke, and after Anzhi at home it’s the derby at Goodison. The next Europa is a trip to Russia in the return with Anzhi, followed by Chelsea away. So this trend of resting first-team players will be needed to continue.
Possible line-up to face YB: Jones, Wisdom, Carragher, Coates, Enrique, Henderson, Sahin, Downing, Morgan, Yesil, Assaidi.
LFC squad: Jones, Gulacsi, Jones, Wisdom, Carragher, Coates, Wilson, Enrique, Shelvey, Sahin, Henderson, Downing, Yesil, Morgan, Robinson, Coady, Suso, Sterling, Pacheco, Assaidi,Borini.