Balancing Premier League ambitions and European aspirations is tough, but as mentioned before, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will take the second tier Europa League seriously. How to do so though? Instead of using a totally different eleven to the ones regularly starting in the league – form and fitness considerations aside – Klopp should instead split his squad into three categories: definite starters, use as required, and not to be considered at all.
This consideration should only be made for the Europa League group stages, and even the early rounds of the English League Cup. Should the Reds qualify for the knockout stages, the Europa League starts becoming more of a priority as potential silverware, then Klopp ought to consider more of his key personnel.
The most obvious starter for the Europa League is back-up goalkeeper Adam Bogdan, signed from Bolton in the summer. Simon Mignolet is almost certainly going to start every league game, so Bogdan needs to be extensively used in Europe so as to keep the Hungarian prepared should Mignolet fall victim to injury.
Ahead of Bogdan, young full-backs Joe Gomez and Alberto Moreno should be first picks for the two full-back positions, with both incidentally battling for the left-back spot in league games. The Europa League could be used for either to stake their place at left-back for the subsequent league game. Veteran centre-back Kolo Toure will likely lead the team when picked.
can a young side lead the reds to the knockout stages?
With the battle for midfield spots more intensive than ever, the Europa League is probably Joe Allen’s best shot for starts, and the perfect platform for him to shine with his European-style passing game. Youth team star Joao Carlos Teixeira needs more game time with the first-team as well, lest he goes down the route of Suso and seek opportunities elsewhere. Teixeira’s style is similar to one Philippe Coutinho, and Rodgers should definitely see the Portuguese youngster as the perfect understudy for Coutinho.
Up top sees four strikers fighting for one, at most two spots. New signings Danny Ings and Divock Origi will find league starts hard to come by, especially with Christian Benteke likely to remain first choice till Daniel Sturridge returns from injury. This will be Ings’ first taste of European action, and could help refine his forward play, while Origi will want to use this competition to prove his value to Rodgers.
Use As Required
The high energy of James Milner would mean the former Manchester City star will likely be given some chances in the Europa League, to lend his European experience to his more inexperienced team-mates. Emre Can might be playing Premier League football week in week out right now, but Klopp will need to use him in Europe so as to continue Can’s general development. U-21 star Jordan Rossiter needs more first team experience, especially in European football, and though Reds fans would like to see the youngster start every Europa League match, Klopp will be more selective and careful with his game time.
rossiter could have his breakthrough year
One of Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho will likely start the away matches in the group stages, to keep them on their toes if not to ensure the necessary quality in defence. Winger Jordon Ibe would be the likely starter in the Europa League, but his role in Europe will likely be shared amongst Adam Lallana, and to a lesser extent, Roberto Firmino.
Heading this list is Daniel Sturridge, who actually could easily have been part of the use as required list. In theory, Liverpool fans would simply want Sturridge to be totally fit and focused on the league, firing the Reds back into the top four, such is his quality and record. However, his long-term injuries would mean he would need to be eased back into action – yet again – and Klopp might be tempted to use the Europa League to provide Sturridge with the necessary match fitness. Granted, that is necessary, but once Sturridge gains full fitness, he should not be considered until the knockout stages.
ever so key to the reds’ league success
Others that should not be considered is skipper Jordan Henderson and Christian Benteke. Some will argue that this duo require more European experience in order to take their game to the next level, but they should focus their efforts entirely on the league. Rodgers might use either or both for one or two of the away fixtures in the group stages, but that should be the maximum Henderson and Benteke is afforded in Europe.
Key defensive duo Martin Skrtel and Nathaniel Clyne would be best served being left out of the Europa League group stages altogether. Skrtel is now the most important member of the back four, and any injury to him would leave the Reds even more vulnerable than they have been already. Though Clyne has only recently signed from Southampton and would likely want to be involved in Europe, he too should not be considered, seeing that the Reds have just one senior specialist right-back. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet should not be considered based purely on the fact that Bogdan needs the opportunity to play competitive matches.
Most importantly, star man Philippe Coutinho will need to be at his most fittest for every league game, such is his importance to Liverpool these days. Europa League action will only serve to drain him, and with the Brazilian seeking consistency throughout the 90 minutes, he will be best served spared from any Thursday night games.
The Europa League should not be seen as a waste of time, but instead one that allows fringe squad members to stake their first team spots, similar to how Harry Kane rose to prominence at Tottenham last season after initially starring in Europe’s second rate competition. With this splitting of the squad, Klopp should be able to call on this core of Europa League first picks to do the job in the competition and qualify for the knockout stages.