Steaua on Thursday, United on Sunday...triage already?
With squad depth and fitness an issue so early in the season, I fear the answer is yes.
I'm typically not one to want to talk at length about prioritizing one competition over another---it's too tempting to ramble on about courage and honor and such. But with so many matches in the coming weeks, it's unavoidable. Only one match gone during this stretch (along with the longest break Liverpool will have for two weeks) and I find myself drawing up wildly drawing up team sheets that look like they're coming out of a Master League from Pro Evo.
The fact of the matter is that, like it or not, there's going to be some heavy prioritizing of the personnel that takes place. Thursday's match is followed closely by Sunday's, Sunday's by Wednesday's, Wednesday's by Sunday's, etc. etc.
So we're going to see some different names at different times, and for me, the cup competitions are going to to have to fall by the wayside for the bigger names.
The League Cup isn't really worth the discussion; always an opportunity for the fringe first-teamers and promising reserves, and this year won't be any different. We'll probably see Brad Jones, Stephen Darby, Jay Spearing, David Amoo, and Nathan Eccleston among others. And unless it's against one of the lower division teams, the opposition will proceed in a similar manner.
The Europa League is a slightly different prospect, but I still think it's got to take a backseat. Like last season, it's not a competition that the club are going to place much stock in for better or worse. Take Thursday's match, for instance---eyes are already firmly planted on Old Trafford, despite the reassurances we'll no doubt hear in the build up to the match about "taking every match seriously" and "the Europa League is a fine competition."
I think this means a mixture of regulars and younger players---maybe not the Darby-Amoo-Eccleston combination we'll see in the League Cup, but more along the lines of Kelly-Babel-Pacheco-Ngog. Still first-team players, but not ones that have broken through. I'd guess they sprinkle in Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Martin Skrtel, Steven Gerrard at times, Joe Cole to get his legs back, Lucas/Poulsen, and a couple of the promising youngsters on the bench.
Like I said, it seems far too early to talk about weighing the importance of each competition, but the reality is that this squad will struggle to compete on three (and eventually four) different fronts.
Injuries to Dirk Kuyt and Fabio Aurelio (combined with the worry about Paul Konchesky), along with the ever-present worries for a few of the other regulars, mean that proven talent and experience are at a premium. To try to stretch the squad this early in the season, in my mind, would be an awfully big gamble. Now if the Champions League is involved, it's likely a gamble that nobody would question taking. I suppose this is the luxury of a seventh-place finish.
But regardless of the personnel that Roy Hodgson decides to use, I think we can all agree that the approach needs to be the same---it's the exact discussion we had after the match on Sunday. Whether it's the youth and reserves in the Carling Cup, the fringe first-teamers in the Europa League, or a full strength "best" eleven on Sunday at Old Trafford, Liverpool need to play as though they expect to not just stick around and have a decent run-out, but that they can compete with some sort of identifiable urgency.
You know, having expectations that are just above "not that high."