Liverpool are England’s most successful team in Europe, having won the European Cup on five occasions (1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005), three Uefa Cups (1973, 1976, 2001) and three European Super Cups (1977, 2001, 2005.) This is a club that knows what it takes to win on the continent because it’s ingrained within the club. That sort of belief will prove invaluable to Brendan Rodgers throughout the rest of the competition. The amount of success they have had also gives them an element of fear. Teams still find it difficult when they go to Anfield because of who they are, and what they have achieved in the past and that psychological edge cannot be underestimated – just ask Manchester City, who still feel as if they don’t belong at the very highest level of the game. The crowd at Anfield will also play a huge role as it is one of the most passionate, and hostile grounds on a European night – whenever the Reds need a boost they can feed of the energy of the crowd.
This is a side that qualified for the Champions League, and strengthened on that basis, spending £107m during the summer. They have players such as Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Steven Gerrard, who can win them matches, but they also have grafters such as Lucas Leiva and Martin Sktrel, who are willing to contest every minute of a game. That balance in their squad will help Rodgers as he looks to negotiate each round. He also has tactically flexible players as Liverpool have played a 4-2-3-1, a 4-4-2 in a diamond and a 3-4-3 this season, on each occasion the players have been able to adjust. This helps Rodgers as he can alter things during a match if they don’t appear to be working. A side that is unpredictable and can adapt to each game is always more dangerous than one that plays in a conservative way so that dynamic will certainly help Liverpool’s ambitions of winning the Europa League.
Liverpool are among XI other clubs still left in the draw who have won the competition. This suggests that it doesn’t matter who Liverpool draw as it will be a difficult tie, but there is also no outstanding side who have dominated every game, so the Reds will have a chance to go through no matter who they face. AS Roma, Inter Milan and Fiorentina will represent the biggest threat from Serie A while Borussia Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg could also cause an upset. But recent history in the competition suggests that Spanish opposition will dominate the latter stages. In 2009 and 2011, Atletico Madrid won the competition, Sevilla won it last season, while Athletic Bilbao have also graced a final in the last five years. Villarreal and Sevilla are doing well in La Liga but came second in their respective Europa League groups. Whether the clubs prioritise Europa League over domestic games will be the key to winning the competition but Rodgers will have the added incentive of qualifying for the Champions League if they win the competition. The Premier League is widely considered to be the most competitive in the world so winning this might be Liverpool’s most realistic chance of getting into the Champions League next season.
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