Ahead of Liverpool's Europa League tie tonight, Sportsvibe caught up with club legend John Barnes, ESPN football analyst, to find out his views on Liverpool's early season performances, the Europa League, and how Liverpool need to balance their various quests for trophies.
What do you think of Liverpool’s early season performances and how do you think Brendan Rodgers is settling into the role?
"Apart from a period of the game against West Brom and the Arsenal game, I think the performances have been good. Performances against Manchester United, Sunderland, and Manchester City were good but the results just haven’t been going their way so at the moment picking up points is the most important thing. I’m optimistic based on those performances and also looking at the young players they’ve got coming through, they’ve shown good quality and good character and I think Brendan Rodgers will have learnt that he can put some of them into the first team rather than thinking that he needs first team players because he will have to wait until January for that!"
Barnes went onto say, "For me, Brendan Rodgers is a long term appointment, and I know it’s said every year but I’ve always felt that all managers should be given at least two years and if it works in the first six months, six weeks then fine but if it doesn’t, then keep the faith and stay with him and see what it brings."
Do you think Rodgers was left in the lurch with the summer transfer dealings?
"Football has now become a very complicated industry and it’s not just him who has been left in the lurch, it’s him, the fans, the club, the owners themselves as I’m sure they would have wanted to get players in. Unfortunately the manager is the one who bears the brunt of all the criticism when player don’t go well, but everyone is in it together so I don’t think he’s been left in the lurch any more than others."
Has letting Andy Carroll leave and then not buying anyone else had an effect on the team?
"Not really because I think Rodgers has a clear message in terms of the way he wants to play so if Carroll didn’t go then he would have changed the way they played long term, but that’s not what they want to do. He’s very strong in terms of how he wants to play and maybe he wouldn’t have let Carroll go had he known no one was going to come in but ultimately he then has to pick the players and get on with it."
John, what are your thoughts on how Liverpool should treat the Europa League?
"You should always go on a cup run when you can but obviously you have to prioritise. The Europa League is a cup competition and you’re in it and it shouldn’t be bigger than it is because otherwise you’d be in the Champions League if you’d finished fourth or you finish tenth and you won’t be in it! You can’t push for something and then get there and then say you don’t want to win it. You obviously then prioritise but every game you play you should always go on and try to win so I’m sure Liverpool will be trying to win it even if they’re playing lesser players or younger players because you have to look at the long picture because if you’re fighting on all fronts then you have to prioritise."
Since the inception of the Europa League, it has always been met with derision from football fans yet if we look deeper into some of the stats of the Europa League, we can see that it is in fact more exciting than the Champions League in terms of goals per game: last season the Europa League averaged 2.67 goals per game compared to 2.56 in the Champions League.
On this point, do you think the fans embrace the Europa League given they pay a lot of money to see the squad players having a run out?
"I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the fans that. But they should because you support Liverpool Football Club. Whoever plays for Liverpool Football Club and puts on that shirt is representing your club and if you’re in the Europa League or the Champions League, you go and support your club. You can’t say, ‘if he’s not playing then I’m not going to support the club’ because he won’t be playing soon when he retires and when he leaves soon and other players come. If players come that you don’t like then they’re still playing for your club. I think it’s more important now than any other time to support the club and not the players because players will come and go more so now than ever. You look at players like Torres; you fall in love with him and then he’s not there anymore."
Do Liverpool have a chance to win the Europa League?
"Of course but it depends on who you draw in the next round obviously. Liverpool have to be looking at themselves and be thinking that they’re one of the best teams in the Europa League but I’m sure there are other teams who are thinking the same way."
Do you think they will prioritise the Premier League or the Europa League or the Capital One Cup?
"The Premier League is the most important thing obviously and then depending on how you’re doing in the League, your injury situation, how close it is from the Europa League game to the next game and depending on who you’re playing then all these things will be taken into consideration but I think it will be focussed around the League more so than anything else."
And finally John, what do you think of the way the football world has reacted to the recent Hillsborough news?
"It is understandable given this happened 23 years ago and the way people still feel about it because that’s the family of football for you. What we all are at the end of the day are football supporters."
"I always say that we are football supporters first and then we are Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Scunthorpe United supporters second. Football fans may not see it that way but that is 100% the way it is because if they didn’t support Liverpool they could very well support Everton or Manchester United so when something like that happens then the football fans recognise that it could so easily have been them, but it happened to be somebody else and that is when the football world comes together."
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