IT’S escaped almost everyone’s notice but we’re in a really peculiar position this year whereby Liverpool could face the crazy proposition of a play-off for seventh place in the Premier League. There’s a pair of results that mean that, while this is pretty unlikely, it’s possible.
West Ham have currently scored two goals more than Liverpool while the defensive records are the same. You would then also need Manchester United to win the FA Cup for it to matter, as that’s the only way that a seventh-placed finish yields a Europa League place.
When such a game would take place I have absolutely no idea given that we wouldn’t know if it is necessary until after the FA Cup final, and by then most of the players will have disappeared to their respective international sides in preparation for this summer’s European Championships.
You then have the fact that whoever does in fact get awarded this place would end up needing to play a qualifier in late July, which means the team would have to be determined sometime in early to mid-July. You kept up? This whole thing is absolutely barmy and it probably won’t happen. But a 2-1 win for Stoke and a 3-1 win for Liverpool will see it happen. So, all being well we won’t have to worry about this. We’re talking a really slim probability here. But as a man who works in probability, never say never.
Klopp is annoyed enough with FA Cup replays — imagine telling him he’s going to have to turn up to Wembley before the Euros have finished to have the chance to get in the third qualifying round of the Europa League, and play four European games before the start of August.
(Neil is annoyed as well, look.)
I mean, no. No, please, God — no. Imagine that. “Alright, lads, we need you to come to Wembley to play off for seventh with West Ham. Not arsed that your players are all in France, just send someone. Anyone.”
I’d be in favour of the club just saying, “Nah, it’s ok, let them have it on head to head. What, there isn’t a head-to-head rule? Well, create one then.”
As an aside, Manchester United lost 6-1 at home to Manchester City in 2012-2013. Were that game to have finished 1-3 then they would have had to play a play-off for the League title. Imagine that.
Anyway, the obvious solution to this however, is a win on Wednesday night. We’re all in favour of that, aren’t we? But you just have to entertain the possibility that we might lose.
I’ve spent the last month or so in a strange predicament. I didn’t think it was beyond the realms of possibility that we could finish fourth when we took to the field against Newcastle when we had five games to go. Yes, it needed Liverpool to win five games, and it needed Manchester City and/or Arsenal to fall off a cliff, but we could get 68 points then. As it turns out, the worst position we’d have been in if we had won our remaining five games was a goal-difference induced fifth place. As the above scenario: Possible, unlikely but possible.
But then when we drew with Newcastle I started to look at the league table. Fifth or sixth means you would end up having to play Europa League qualifiers, two or four games added to what is effectively your pre-season, for the chance to go in a group with three teams you’ve got no real interest in playing. A Thursday night chore, Sunday games, the psychological disadvantage of having the Thursday-Sunday set up that everyone tells you is such a hardship. Not to mention the likelihood of some long trips to the back of beyond.
Bizarrely, in a month where everything this football club has been doing is about winning what’s probably the best looking trophy of them all, I’ve been actively willing on Liverpool to avoid getting back in the frigging thing next season.
Swansea was glorious, Spurs’ defeat at home to Southampton was great, failing to overcome Chelsea on Wednesday night wasn’t to be frowned upon– although, judging by how angry some people got for 90 minutes, I think I might be on my own with that one. “No mate, that fella isn’t going to go into a 50/50 in an attempt to get sixth place in the league a week before a European Final, you absolute plantpot.”
Let’s be honest about the Europa League here. I’ve had loads of fun this year, the United tie and Dortmund at home, and away as well to a certain extent, will live long in the memory. On its second last European night before refurbishment, it’s arguable that the Main Stand saw Anfield’s greatest ever European night. It was fitting
The group stage was dull, Augsburg felt unnecessary, and playing this many fixtures isn’t good for us in the long run. It’s hard to dispute that we could be 10 points better off without the added workload, or that we could have played a stronger side against West Ham in the FA Cup. I’m not complaining about where we are going to end up on Wednesday night by any stretch of the imagination, but a run like this comes with a cost.
People will say it’s no different to the Champions League. Well, I’m afraid it is. The Champions League might well be the same number of games unless you go deep in it, and result in the same number of midweek games, but it’s also bigger, grander, and being in it makes you look like a top football club. That’s what I’m in it for — for Liverpool to be the best.
Players are genuinely attracted by it. While the transfer hasn’t worked out, a player of the profile of Lazar Markovic wouldn’t have been anywhere near Anfield two years ago if the club were playing against Sion on a Thursday night. You can debate the rights and wrongs of that, but for me it’s undeniable.
If we were going straight into the group stage then I could just about cope with it, but the act of qualifying for it like we did in Brendan Rodgers’ first season? Absolutely no chance I can be arsed with that. Look at how being out of it allowed Rodgers to get Liverpool playing in 13-14. Imagine what Klopp would do with a week between games for the majority of a season.
News has also emerged today about pre-season. Triple sessions. 7am starts. Eleven-a-side games in the evening. And two weeks’ holiday before all that. Coupled with Klopp talking about just how important pre-season is when it comes to setting his team up for the season I fail to see a single positive to trying to add about 20 games to our season, while simultaneously driving a bus through everything he’s trying to achieve in pre-season, when the first 10 of these games would by and large bore the living shite out of everyone. That’s how I felt against Rubin Kazan, Sion and Bordeaux. Bored. I’m not in this to be bored and neither should you.
Losing on Wednesday night would be bad enough; devastating, gutting and a kick in the balls for everyone. But losing the final and being told you’re back in it in just over two months against a bunch of Kazakh pig farmers? I think that’d be worse than the actual act of not winning a final.