Liverpool FC : Should Focus Shift to Europa, Giving Opportunities to Youngsters?
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Liverpool, under Kenny Dalglish, was on a resurgent path and before the current weekend. The Reds were only six points behind Chelsea and Spurs at fourth, though both the teams had a game in hand.
A possibility had started to emerge that Liverpool might just manage to challenge for the elusive top-four spot, something that was unthinkable just about a month back.
However, with only 12 games to go, that would have required Liverpool to continue its great performance on the field by winning most of its matches and expecting that Chelsea and Spurs both drop points.
With a draw against Wigan, Liverpool have now fallen eight points behind the Spurs, and they still have a game in hand.
Even though a top-four finish now looks out of reach, clinching a Europa League spot seems to be almost confirmed with teams like Bolton stuttering and England still in the top three places in the Fairplay table, which guarantees England an additional Europa League spot. So, even a top-seven finish might guarantee Liverpool that spot.
So, this might be the ideal opportunity for Liverpool to focus all their energies on winning the Europa League. It might be the second-tier trophy in Europe, but for a team that has not won anything since 2006, it might just be the shot in the arm that is required.
Europa might not be a walk in the park either, with teams like Manchester City, Ajax, Lille and Villareal standing in the way. However, almost all of these teams would be battling in the league for the championship or the Champions League spots.
Lille would be focusing all its energies on winning the French league, with them currently leading the table in France. Ajax and Villareal are in the battle for the final Champions League spot in their respective leagues (Villareal are fourth in La Liga and Ajax in third in Dutch Eredivisie).
The toughest competition for the title might be Manchester City. With a loss to Manchester United almost effectively ending their title hopes and a top-four spot almost confirmed, they, just like Liverpool, might just go all out for the Europa League crown.
However, with the recent resurgence, one would not bet against the Reds going through the opposition to win the crown.
The current scenario also gives Kenny the opportunity to give an extended run in the first team to the promising youngsters.
Already players like Kelly have cemented their places in the first team and Shelvey, until he was injured, was being given a fair amount of playing time.
With players like Suso and Raheem Sterling being given first-team squad numbers last month, one can just relish the fact that the exciting 17-year-old prospects might just get a feel of playing in the first team. Even if that may just be a 10-minute substitute appearance, it just gives that confidence to the youngsters and gives them the feel of what they are up against.
Danny Pacheco has been talked about a lot over the last year, and this might just be the opportunity that he needs to grab with both hands to convince the Kop that he is good enough.
Another player who needs to do something similar is Joe Cole. Ever since his move from Chelsea, he has struggled to come to terms with life at Anfield with suspensions, injuries and bad form plaguing his short career at Liverpool.
Steve Clarke has also spoken about Cole's potential, and if Clarke is able to get Cole to perform even 50 percent of what he was able to do at Chelsea, he might just turn out to be that creative asset that the team badly needs.
If anyone would have given the Liverpool fans, the option of being in the current scenario a month back, everyone would have grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Most fans had almost given up on the current campaign and capturing a Europa League spot this season might be a decent return after a dreadful start to the season.
Next season, everyone would definitely expect Liverpool to challenge for the top-four spot again, and that would largely depend on the summer signings, but the long-term future of the club would depend on how the youngsters shape up.
This current opportunity might just be the one that Liverpool needs to secure its long term future.
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