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Champions League or bust? – Liverpool fans debate value of European action in 2021/22

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Liverpool sit in a precarious position regarding European football next season, but if they don’t qualify for the Champions League would you want them in any other European competition?

The Reds currently sit five points adrift of the top four in the Premier League and have to overcome Real Madrid in the Champions League to still have a shot at No. 7 and featuring next season.

It leaves hopes of dining at Europe’s top table in 2021/22 balancing on a knife-edge, while a place in the Europa League or Europa Conference League remains possible.

It is all to depended on the Reds’ final position in the table in addition to the winners of the domestic cup competitions, as the Conference League play-off spot could drop to seventh.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men currently find themselves in seventh position with Thursday night football a real possibility, but would that be better than no European action?

Here, This Is Anfield’s Joanna Durkan (@JoannaDurkan_) and Ben Twelves (@bm12s) are joined by Taintless Red (@TaintlessRed), Jack Gill (@jacklfcgill) and Chris Curulli (@ChrisCurulli) to discuss the European conundrum.

 

Champions League…or nothing

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 20, 2021: Liverpool players line-up during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Everton FC, the 238th Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

BEN: Being without Champions League football next season is a horrible thought, but even worse is the thought of ending up in the Europa League or, heaven forbid, the Europa Conference League.

I’d want to avoid those competitions at all costs and would much rather go without European football completely next season if we can’t compete in the elite competition.

We all know how much of a slog the Europa League is and how it derails the Premier League campaign the further you go in it – I can only see the same happening with the new competition given games there are also scheduled for Thursday nights.

We really can’t afford to end up back in the dreaded cycle of being stuck in a second-rate competition due to league performance continually suffering.

I know certain clubs have balanced things well in recent times – Leicester this season and United last come to mind – but given the campaign we’ve had with injuries, having less games and more opportunities for full-strength selections to attack the league is far more appealing.

With that, and without being weighed down by the undesired competitions, I’d expect us to have a really strong campaign – not only getting back into the top four but fighting for the title again.

These are the most important aims, and our best chance of achieving them is by avoiding the Europa League and Europa Conference League.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 12, 2020: Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk (R) embraces goalkeeper Alisson Becker before the opening FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leeds United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 4-3. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOANNA: As much as it pains me to say so, it is Champions League or bust in my view. While much of Liverpool’s success has been built on their exploits in Europe, I don’t want a second-string competition to affect our league season.

There’s no denying it would be a hit, especially after the pandemic to not partake in either the Europa League or Conference League.

But it would ensure we could focus all our attention on the Premier League and domestic cups in the view of returning to Europe’s top table through that route – also giving Klopp rare training blocks between games.

And on the player welfare side, while they would surely want any European action, they would be handed more time to rest and after a summer of internationals, a taxing pandemic campaign and the long-term effects of injuries, it could prove to be a silver lining after non-stop football for the last few years.

 

Any European games are valuable

Klopp, Henderson Champions League banner (Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine)

TAINTLESS RED: Bill Shankly said “Liverpool Football Club exists to win trophies” but some trophies are more important than others, and as we’ve seen with Jurgen’s approach to domestic cups if resources are spread thin some trophies are expendable.

However, Liverpool are synonymous with European success and we cannot be too snobbish when it comes to UEFA’s ‘lesser’ competitions for a number of reasons.

The Europa league has healthy payments for winning games and progressing deeper in the competition that Liverpool cannot overlook given our financial issues due to the pandemic and loss of Champions League revenue.

I understand the Europa league will be smaller next season too so less taxing on fixture scheduling as well. It’s not as prestigious as its big brother but it’s still a well-respected competition and counts as a major trophy.

Liverpool can utilise their fringe players in earlier games and still go deep in the competition, as other English teams have done. Particularly for the young players, it can be a valuable development experience.

Next season fans should also be able to attend so it allows more fans to watch their team play, let alone additional income from matchday revenue to help bolster transfer funds.

The inaugural UEFA Conference League I’m less convinced about, simply because the benefits are all diluted and I’m uncertain if it may even be discontinued in the future.

JACK: A lack of Champions League football for this club seems a mad perception with how good we’ve been over the last few years but it’s a reality we must face if our fortunes don’t change dramatically over the next few weeks.

It’s an old cliche saying you don’t want to be playing on Thursday nights because every player and every fan at this club deserves better than the Europa League, but the quality of the competition over the years has improved slightly and winning it seems a good way to enter the Champions League the season after.

It is also a very winnable trophy for us next year, in my opinion.

The UEFA Conference League, however, is certainly a trophy I don’t want to be playing for. Though it might be interesting to be the first winners of the competition, it’s a trophy that small teams such as the Ev should be competing for and not Europe’s elite.

I do have to say though, that the idea of no European football next year, if we miss out on the Champions League, also seems sweet.

These players have looked tired for the majority of the season and we’ve had a lot of injuries, so having fewer games might be a good thing as we attempt to go for the title again.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, October 2, 2019: Liverpool supporters on the Spion Kop with a banner "Champions of Europe" during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Liverpool FC and FC Salzburg at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

CHRIS: This is a tricky one, as all options would have their respective benefits.

For me, a lot hinges on whether fans are back in full voice come next season. If so, European nights at Anfield, regardless of the competition, are something special and thus something you would never say no to – especially after a year of having these taken away from us!

While missing out on Champions League would be a huge blow, with Klopp’s impressive track record in Europe you would fancy a deep run and a chance of silverware could be on the cards.

Weaker opponents take the glamour out somewhat, but on the flip side, it affords the opportunity for some of our fringe players and rising stars to amass more match minutes.

So while there are plenty of variables at play, I’d probably lean towards any options that allow us fans to watch the Reds in action more often!

Let us know in the comments below which side of the fence you sit on.

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