With a total of twelve shots between the teams and sloppy play throughout, Thursday night's final fixture in Group B of the Europa League perfectly exemplified the proverbial bore draw. There were a number of factors that lead to the match being such a dull affair; a Liverpool side that didn't need to win, a Sion side that couldn't afford to lose, and a bumpy, partly frozen pitch all played their part. In the end, both sides were more pleased to progress than they were interested in making the match an extravaganza, leaving the spectators as the only losers on the night.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp chose to focus on the positives in his post-match press conference, while acknowledging that the performance wasn't particularly impressive:
"It was difficult because the ground was very difficult to play on for both teams.
"The first thing to do tonight was to show character and show that you’re prepared for a game like this. That’s what my team did, so I’m really satisfied. Nobody is injured and they were very focused and concentrated on the game, so everything is okay.
"It was not the football we all know, our best football, but we also know that although it’s an outdoor sport, frozen ground is for other sports usually."(...)
"I am not surprised about their quality and it had influence on our game, but in football you have to take and accept the circumstances. In England we sometimes have wind and rain, but we cannot say we will stay inside – we have to play. That’s what we did today and everything is okay."
While the Europa League tends to get a bad rep as a second-tier contest among fans who forget how rare it has been for Liverpool to qualify for the Champion's League in recent years, that perception seems to slowly be shifting. With sides like Manchester United, Sevilla, Leverkusen and Porto entering the competition for the knockout stage, there is no lack of quality, and no lack of challenging potential match-ups. Klopp recognizes this:
"There are a lot of very good teams in second place in the Europa League groups and good teams who have come in from the Champions League.
"Everybody who thought this tournament is not a first-class tournament will have to change their mind now – everyone will see it’s something like a mini Champions League. I am looking forward to the draw and we’ll see what happens."
While the Thursday-Sunday schedule can be draining on the squad, the benefits of competing in the Europa League - improving the coefficient of club and league, prize money, getting in the habit of winning, matching up against CL quality opposition, possible entry into the CL next year - seem to outweigh the drawbacks. The round of 32 is drawn on Monday, and having a high-level European fixture to look forward to should help keep Liverpool fans warm through the exhausting holiday season.