Steve McManaman: Why wouldn’t Liverpool try to do well in the Europa League?
It’s 15 seasons since an English club entered the Europa League or the UEFA Cup at the very start and went on to win it. That side was Liverpool, and Steve McManaman has urged them to follow Sevilla's approach to the competition if they are to repeat that feat this year.
Liverpool commence their Europa League campaign at Bordeaux tonight, inevitably wishing that they were in the Champions League instead.
The right manner
The Europa League, rebranded in 2009, has not been a happy hunting ground for Premier League sides in recent years. Chelsea won it in 2013, but only after dropping out of the Champions League.
Not since Liverpool's dramatic 5-4 win over Alaves, part of their cup Treble of 2001, have an English club won the competition in what might be regarded as the traditional fashion.
Spanish clubs have dominated, winning the competition in six of the last 10 years. Four of those triumphs were achieved by Sevilla, who earned a place in this year's Champions League thanks to their win over Dnipro in last season's final.
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Former Liverpool star McManaman, now a pundit for BT Sport, believes the Andalusian club have shown that success in the Europa League is as much about attitude as it is talent.
West Ham United have already exited the competition this year after fielding a weakened team, a fate that has befallen a number of English clubs in recent years.
"The way that Sevilla have approached the Europa League in recent years is the way that Liverpool should approach it," McManaman tells FFT.
"Hopefully Liverpool will approach it in the right manner and be very professional. I think in England we get a little bit blasé about the Europa League.
"Should Tottenham have won it last year? Are they better than Sevilla? I think it's how you approach it, whether you want to play your favoured team in every game.
"People say it gets in the way of our Premier League because we play on Thursday and then Sunday. But I don't think that's the right way, I think you have to be really professional about the tournament. It gives you a pathway to the Champions League next year if you win it.
"We all know how hard it is to qualify for the Champions League in the Premier League. If you can get into the Champions League by winning the Europa League, you should take that opportunity."
“It will bring you on as a player”
McManaman knows that doing so won’t be easy for Liverpool, particularly as eight more clubs will join the competition from the Champions League in February.
The Reds followed that route last season, finishing third in their Champions League group before losing to Besiktas in the Europa League's round of 32.
But McManaman has good memories of playing in the UEFA Cup for the Merseysiders, scoring a memorable solo goal at Celtic in 1997, and says it can be just as valuable for the Reds' current squad. Swiss side Sion and the Russian club Rubin Kazan are also in Liverpool's group.
The former England international said: "It gives you great experience if you're one of the younger players – playing the likes of Sion or Rubin Kazan, travelling across Europe, playing against European opposition, against different styles and different formations. It will bring you on as a player. I think it's vitally important. I played in the UEFA Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup when I was younger, as well as the Champions League later, and I adored playing in all of them. All the nights in European football were really special.
"Liverpool certainly should be one of the favourites for the Europa League. It's difficult because once teams start dropping out of the Champions League it becomes a different competition. But teams that were in the Champions League last year should always have a good chance in the Europa League this year."
Watch Bordeaux vs Liverpool on BT Sport Europe from 6pm. BT Sport is the new home of European football, with all UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League matches exclusively live. Visit btsport.com/europe for more info.