Europa League Vs Champions League Qualification: Liverpool's Predicament

Antony HerbertAnalyst IIIMarch 11, 2010

WIGAN, ENGLAND - MARCH 08:  Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez looks on before the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Liverpool at the JJB Stadium on March 8, 2010 in Wigan, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

After Monday’s defeat to Wigan Athletic, Liverpool look to have surrendered their stranglehold on a top four position. They are now the rank outsiders to claim fourth place behind Aston Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham. Failure to overcome all three teams then would  leave them out of the Champions League for the first time since 2004.

So as they head into this evenings Europa League match against Lille their fans, including myself, will be wishing that the only remaining chance of silverware or credibility available from this lacklustre season can brought into fruition. A victory would put them into the quarter finals of their only surviving cup run.

In a worst case Premier League scenario Liverpool would be four points shy of Tottenham, six from Villa and seven from Man City if all their rivals were to win their games in hand.

From a realistic point of view it basically means that all three of their close rivals will need to falter in their remaining games and gift Liverpool the opportunity to fight more capably for the final Champions League position.

Such a predicament though leaves us the supporters in a state of complexity. Which target would we see as more appealing for our team to succeed in?

Would we want a further Champions League place in the event that the league misfortunes of this season are reversed and we actually claim a miraculous fourth spot?

Or would be want Liverpool to at least salvage one momentus occasion from one of the poorest seasons of this century in lifting the Europa League trophy?

I myself am inclined to head towards the latter, as although I am not a glory hunter I feel it necessary that Liverpool get some perspective from this years catastrophes.

I would deem it more unlikely that a successful league campaign would be the end result than the probability of winning the Europa League. If previous League form were to dictate the conclusion of the campaign then any striving to achieve the required run of form to secure fourth is out of reach. 

When the ball has started roll, it hasnt appeared to take much to bring it grinding to a halt. For every optimistic result against a Manchester United, such victories have been carelessly undone with defeats against the likes of Reading and Portsmouth.

Although many have stood defiantly behind Rafa Benitez, it has been easy to understand the harsh criticism aimed towards him as every poor result is met by an evident abundance of denial. Rafa has promised too much in the way of reversal of fortunes, that then just are not being witnessed.

On the bright side of this, Monday’s dismal result has influenced Rafa to comment on the importance of tonight's fixture and also for all of the remaining matches that his team will play in.

By proclaiming that the team now has to ‘approach every game thinking it is the most important game of the season’ he is asking his players to up their level. Subsequently he has set an expectation for the remaining fixtures, in a cry to achieve something worthy of note in either the league or European campaign.

Rafa has therefore finally accepted that his and the teams chips are well and truly down.

I don't think personally that Rafa should be forced out of his job whatever the outcome. But I do feel that this season should be used as a learning curve by both himself and his team. They must understand, for a team so heaped in glorious history that this season was just not good enough. The level of inconsistency shown was devastating to their fans and portrayed a team not in unison.

Following seasons could be more beneficial if the team now looks to successful league campaigns as their main priority, leaving the Champion’s League qualifications as more of a long term aim.

The obvious course for the team to go down on now should be to focus on one match a time, giving probable precedence to their European campaign this year. 

If they have to face a following year in the Europa League by a failure to secure fourth in the league then so be it. Maybe it would allow them to actually focus more aptly and to bring in greater talents in order to get the 2010/11 Premier League season off on the right foot.

They need to show the ability to triumph in their own back yard in a more able fashion. After all how can your claim to being the best team in Europe really be possible if you are not the champions of England?

This season was always going to be forthcoming with the evident focus on the Champions League. The success in that tournament has often delivered blows to league campaigns, only this season the effect has been more obvious.

Liverpool have yet to find the balance between the two that Manchester United have mastered. And as Liverpool followers we do not want the two possibilities of success to cancel each other out, leaving no absolute success in the aftermath.

What stands Liverpool in good stead for their Europa League campaign is that although some teams such as Juventus and Marseille still remain, they are teams that Liverpool have shown the ability to rise to the occasion against.

And if they can force themselves into a position where they are able to win matches against such teams then they will hopefully receive some kind of reward. 

A betting man would not bet for a return to the scintillating form that took Liverpool to second spot in the League last year and the Champions League finals in the years before.

Yet if the team can focus on one goal instead of diverting their attentions to two, then they may gift something to the fans that will undo some of the continuous blows that have befallen them. 

Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are now both back in regular action, which will allow the team to aim higher than in earlier games this season.

Victory tonight would ease the pressure by a tiny amount, but will provide us with a glimpse of what is more realistically achievable for a team in need of some highlights.