A EUROPA League game three days before an away Merseyside derby probably isn’t the preparation Brendan Rodgers would have chosen for such a vital league tie, but it is what it is and we are where we are.
FC Sion have at least done the decent thing of looking a bit rubbish recently. After finishing seventh in the 10-team Swiss Super League last season, the Swiss Cup winners have reached the dizzy heights of fifth this season, one place behind Luzern who triumphed at the weekend thanks to a Samid Yesil winner. In the UEFA co-efficients, Switzerland’s clubs are ranked 11th. England are third. Just.
Yeah, that’s the level, although they kicked off their Europa League Group B matches with a 2-1 home win against Rubin Kazan.
The goals have dried up for them recently, too. After averaging over two goals a game in their first eight league games, they haven’t scored in either of their last two. The lad who does tend to get the goals for them is Moussa Konate, who scored both of Sion’s goals against Kazan. He’s 22, bangs them in for club and country and has got a lovely smile. Let’s hope we don’t see any of that tonight.
The fact that both managers seem to be fighting for their futures makes it an interesting tie not just for us and them but for everyone looking in. Sion were always likely to take a tie against Liverpool pretty seriously, but the pressure on them is heating up after their chairman Christian Constantin described their home defeat to Vaduz at the weekend as “awful, awful, awful.”
In a rant that would put some of our Twitter mentions to shame, Constantin went on to say “every adjective is applicable, as long as they are negative. It was pathetic…The players should be ashamed of being paid.” Interesting to see if Tom Werner adopts a similar tone if things at Anfield don’t improve soon.
So current form might suggest teams lacking in confidence, but past meetings suggest we could be in for some goals, at least. Back in 1996, Liverpool played Sion in the now sadly defunct Cup Winners’ Cup.
In the home tie Liverpool managed to go 2-0 and 3-2 down (seriously, Reds, don’t even think about it) before a surprisingly large and boisterous crowd of over 38,000 encouraged Liverpool to an eventual 6-3 Halloween win.
Liverpool picked a very strong team that night, with Robbie Fowler (2), Steve McManaman, John Barnes and Patrik Berger all scoring. They then got whalloped 3-0 by Blackburn Rovers on the weekend that followed though. Which is the kind of thing that will be playing on the manager’s mind.
How seriously should The Reds take this competition? How much should fitness for Sunday come into consideration? Is it something that can actually act as a springboard to future success, rather than the nuisance it’s always potrayed as?
Simon Hughes thinks we should be taking it seriously as Liverpool clock up their 350th game in European competition. He wrote as much yesterday in his Wednesday column. I can understand his viewpoint, but I’d still rather see others given the opportunity tonight. The likes of Divock Origi, Adam Lallana, Joe Allen, Jordon Ibe and Joe Gomez all need time on the pitch if they are going to contribute for Liverpool this season. And if you don’t play them now, then when do you?
I’d also like to see some of our academy players given a chance. A lot has been made of the fact that the bridge between Under-21 football and Premier League football is vast. Maybe the Europa League can help with that.
It also gives a boost to the academy staff seeing players they have trained make the leap and get involved in the first team. Having a visible pathway is vital for the development and motivation of those players. Jordan Rossiter and Cameron Branagan did well in Bordeaux. Give them another chance at Anfield. Jordan’s on the front of the programme as well. So come on, Brendan.
How ‘seriously’ you take a competition is as much about mindset than who you pick. I’d rather see a Origi trying to prove himself as a Liverpool player than a Daniel Sturridge with one and a half eyes on Sunday’s game. I take Simon’s point about the manager needing experience at this level, too. But I don’t think he needs Lucas Leiva on the pitch to give him that. It shouldn’t affect his tactics or approach.
Whoever we pick tonight is a Liverpool player and should be good enough to beat Sion and preserve an impressive Anfield record in this competition, with the Reds having suffered just one defeat in the last 22 home games in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, losing 3-2 to Udinese in 2012.
Lallana will have cost more than their entire first 11 combined. Win well. Score some goals. Stake a claim. Move on to Goodison on Sunday.
Kick off: 8.05pm, live on BT Sport Europe. Tickets for the game are still available.
Injuries: Christian Benteke (hamstring), Roberto Firmino (back), Jon Flanagan (knee), Jordan Henderson (foot), Dejan Lovren (ankle).
Odds: Liverpool: 4/7, Draw: 16/5, Sion: 11/2.
Pic: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo