It’s hard to find silver linings in yet another season without Europe. We’ve become increasingly used to saying things like “Oh, it will allow us to focus on the league” or “Well, we’re bound for a decent run in the cups, then,” and worries over squad depth lessen when the club is not consistently engaging in the good old Thursday/Sunday split of Europa League. There are benefits to not being in Europe, they tell us, as hard as that might be to believe.
Liverpool may not have to figure out clever ways to navigate a congested fixture list this fall, but there are plenty of other clubs that will and several of which Liverpool face during these periods of congestion. Opposition clubs will have to prioritize their matches in the grand scheme of what they hope to accomplish this season, forcing them to choose from limited range of options: field a full-strength team against Liverpool at the expense of their European campaign, field the B squad against Liverpool in order to focus on Europe, or play the first team both domestically and in Europe and hope players aren’t overcome with exhaustion.
After winning the League Cup last season, Swansea's first major piece of silverware was the newly promoted club’s ticket into the imbroglio that is the regular mid-week match. Swansea emerge from the international break to host Liverpool ahead of their first Europa League group stage match, and their squad is not one of the deeper ones on the continent this season. A home match in the league is always preferable before zipping off to another time zone, and Michael Laudrup will have to decide where he fields his full strength team and how that choice is impacted by playing at home vs away.
How fun for David Moyes! After a disastrous transfer window that saw United sign only Marouane Fellaini from Moyes’ previous employers Everton, Moyes has his work cut out for him in proving he can steer a ship as large as United. While United aren’t exactly in a group of death in Champions League, a good showing on the continent is always important for the Mancs and a win at home against die Werkself in Moyes’ first ever Champions League match in charge of United will be important. The two following games don’t offer any sort of reprieve, as it’s a trade up between risking points in the league against the noisy neighbours or risking not advancing to the next round of the League Cup. The latter might be the least important to Manchester United, but a cup tie against his Merseyside rivals might cause Moyes to rethink his priorities.
Like Manchester United, Arsenal had a fairly abysmal transfer window and while signing Mesut Özil is a coup for literally any team on the planet, it’s left a perpetually injury-laden squad crying out for the kind of reinforcement needed when competing on this many fronts. Liverpool kick off a rough eight days for the Gunners, and while Arsenal have the solace of knowing they’re playing host at the Emirates, it’s the only home match in a week that sees them visiting Champions League runners up Dortmund followed by Premier League runners up Manchester City. Promise of regular Champions League qualification is obviously super important to Arsenal given that it’s what enticed Luis Suarez to even entertain the possibility of moving elsewhere within England, but Arsenal’s perpetual place on the bubble of third through fifth place means they’re unable to sacrifice points in the league should it negatively affect their final place in the table.
The remaining English clubs with European play this fall don’t encounter Liverpool during runs of matches where their continental obligations might cause them to make choices they otherwise wouldn’t. Tottenham Hotspur (December 14), Manchester City (Decemebr 26), and Chelsea (December 28) all play host to Liverpool during a fixture rich December that will bring Liverpool its own selection headaches. Finally, England’s last great hope in Europe, Wigan Athletic, are not allowing anyone in the top division to benefit from their visits abroad given that they are currently wallowing in the Championship.