How Might Liverpool and Everton Fare in the Champions League as Low Seeds?

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistApril 17, 2014

Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho, left, and Everton's James McCarthy battle for the ball during their English Premier League soccer match at Anfield in Liverpool, England, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Clint Hughes)
Clint Hughes

Before last night, when it came to the current performances of its two Premier League football teams, Merseyside remained in fervent.

Liverpool and Everton had won 17 straight Premier League matches between them until the latter lost at home to Crystal Palace, a staggering run and one which could hardly have come at a better time given the duo’s respective goals.  

In the red corner, the delirious Premier League title charge that Liverpool are on means that it has been pretty much forgotten that they are within touching distance of achieving their initial aim for the campaign, a finish in the top four places and a return to Champions League football after five years away.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - APRIL 12: Gerard Deulofeu (R) of Everton celebrates his team's goal with team-mate Seamus Coleman during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on April 12, 2014 in Sunderland, Englan
Paul Thomas/Getty Images

In the blue corner things are a little less clear, but despite the defeat to Palace they remain hopeful of finishing in the top four of the Premier League. Win their remaining four matches, and they’ll have a great chance to do it.

The Champions League could soon be making a home on Merseyside then, but both Liverpool and Everton will know that they’ll pay the price for what happened the last time they were in it.

The Reds’ exit from the group stages in the 2009/10 season was the final shuddering blow in a deteriorating record in the competition which over the previous five years had seen them win it, be beaten finalists and reach the last four, whilst the Blues didn't even get past the qualification stages on their only appearance in 2005.

David Moyes’ side were beaten by eventual semi-finalists Villarreal back then, and given their weak UEFA coefficient they are likely to have to face a similarly tough task this time, with a two-legged play-off certainly not for the faint-hearted.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28:  Roberto Martinez the Everton manager directs his players as Brendan Rodgers the Liverpool manager reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on January 28, 2014 in Liverpool,
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Let’s assume that they make it through though, and that they join their neighbours in the competition proper. Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers, both former managers of Swansea City in the Championship, would suddenly be thrust into the Champions League.

The qualities of both men and the confidence they possess would ensure that they would meet such challenges head on, and they would certainly need that confidence given the tough tasks they’d face.

Earlier this month, Mark Ogden of the Daily Telegraph wrote that Liverpool can expect a tough draw in European football’s premier competition next season, even if they were to win the Premier League title.

The Reds’ recent absence from the Champions League and European football altogether has seen their UEFA coefficient crumble, and so a position in the third pot of seeds for the four-team groups would be the best that they could hope for.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 13:  General View of Liverpool fans on the Kop prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield on April 13, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

That raises the mouth-watering possibility of a Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich heading to Anfield next season, but the fearless nature with which Rodgers has got his team performing would ensure that the Reds would be up for such challenges.

Whether or not they’d beat them though, is another matter.

The Reds may be having a lot of fun showcasing their incredible attacking abilities in the Premier League week after week—and indeed those of us who are watching them are, too—but taking them into a clash with, say, Bayern Munich could leave them horribly exposed and ripe for a big defeat.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 13:  Martin Skrtel of Liverpool celebrates scoring the second goal with team-mate Steven Gerrard (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield on April 13, 2014 in Liverpool, Engla
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

What would be much more interesting spectacles would be matches against the likes of Roma or Borussia Dortmund, attack-minded sides who still have flaws that you can expose, very much like Liverpool themselves.

You could even throw Barcelona into that argument, as the Catalans wouldn't much be up for a trip to a hostile Anfield after recent experiences or grounds such as the Vicente Calderon or even Celtic Park last season.

Rodgers and the Reds will need the group stage draw to be kind then. But there is nothing to suggest that, with a couple of good summer additions, a bigger squad and the maintenance of the staggering rate of improvement in some of the Liverpool players that they can’t fare well in the Champions League.

As Manchester City showed though, the tough groups that you can be presented with upon arrival in the competition mean that it can sometimes take you a year or two to make your mark.

City went out in the group stages in their first two Champions League campaigns before making it to the second round this time, something which is likely to secure them a place in pot two next season, according to that article from Ogden.

Everton’s case is somewhat different to Liverpool’s, and will depend entirely on how they would view their participation in the tournament.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 06:  Romelu Lukaku of Everton celebrates scoring the second goal with Manager Roberto Martinez during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Arsenal at Goodison Park on April 6, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Having borrowed players from Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City to reach the cusp of the Champions League, whether or not they’ll be able to do the same again next season remains to be seen, as suddenly the elite clubs they’d be loaning from might see the Blues as more of a threat.

Indeed, in allowing Everton temporary ownership of Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry this season, Chelsea and Manchester City may have gone a long way toward ensuring that Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham won’t get into the Champions League in 2014/15, perhaps significantly weakening them as a result. They won’t want the same thing to happen to them.

Of course Barry will be available on a free transfer in the summer and Jose Mourinho doesn't seem overly keen on Lukaku, so there is a strong possibility that Everton could use their Champions League riches to finance moves for both. Sadly for them, Gerard Deulofeu will return to Barcelona.

Happily for them, though, they’ll have money to buy a top-class replacement, and although the discussion of money in football can often lead us toward a greed-filled or vulgar direction, that really is what will be most important for Everton were they to get into the Champions League.

The riches on offer would ensure that, after years of scrambling around for cheap moves or loans and being forced to sell their best players, Everton would have the money to consistently compete with the bigger clubs in the land.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 15:  Seamus Coleman of Everton is congratulated by team mates after scoring the winning goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Cardiff City at Goodison Park on March 15, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (P
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

In terms of how they’d do against the bigger clubs on the continent though, then they may well need to be very patient.

Likely to be below Liverpool in pot four for the draw, the Blues would be certain to face at least one of European football’s superpowers during a group stage that they would do very well to qualify from.

Of course qualification isn't out of the question, especially not when you play the type of exhilarating football that the Blues do under Martinez, but the current Everton side have sometimes struggled when facing the bigger sides in this season’s Premier League. They were hammered 4-0 at Liverpool, lost at Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham and were beaten 4-1 at Arsenal in the FA Cup.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28:  Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool attempts to control the ball under pressure from John Stones of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on January 28, 2014 in Liverpool, Eng
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

They’d show no fear in the Champions League obviously, but their campaign might really be more about just enjoying themselves before the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United make renewed assaults to try and get back into the competition.

You could almost say the same about Liverpool, too, although the Reds look better equipped to go on a decent run.

How decent? Well maybe repeating their success of 2005 is a little too much to ask, but no-one expected that Liverpool team to win it back then.

As this season’s Red and Blue vintages have shown though, anything seems possible on Merseyside at the moment.  


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