The Europa League. The FA Cup. The Premier League. The next three games pose a significant challenge for Liverpool, should Brendan Rodgers begin prioritising one competition over the other two with resources a little thinner than ideal?
Travelling to in-form Crystal Palace under Alan Pardew will be difficult as the London club have won five games out of seven since the former Newcastle manager took charge, losing only one game during that time. Such a game could be taxing and prove to be a real battle for the players; Crystal Palace have bested both Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton in domestic competitions this year. Anfield, European football, and competent opposition follow five days later. An away trip to top four rivals Southampton crops up a mere three days after another European night at Anfield. So what's the plan for managing, rotating, and prioritising during this time and beyond?
The single overriding concern should be retaining a presence in Europe's top tier competition. However, beating Crystal Palace will keep the confidence and momentum going. Suffering at Selhurst Park again shouldn't be on Liverpool's agenda, and it's arguable that there's enough of a gap between Saturday and Thursday for Liverpool to put out a strong side in the FA Cup fifth round clash. The Europa League and Premier League both offer entrance to the land of milk and honey, but the ties are traditionally close together at the back end of the week.
Liverpool cannot put out the same side in three fixtures, and with the absence of Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard, Brendan Rodgers will have more difficult decisions to make in midfield. Jordan Rossiter is also injured, Joe Allen has recently come back from injury but needs to find some form, Jordan Williams is inexperienced, and Emre Can has been part of a stable defensive unit. How will Brendan Rodgers use his likely senior midfield trio of Henderson, Can, and Allen? Daniel Sturridge will need his minutes to be carefully managed, Mario Balotelli and Dejan Lovren will be needed, Kolo Touré will return next week, and other players will come into consideration.
However, the Brendan Rodgers era would benefit from a trophy as Liverpool's history has been littered with trophies. Even in the years since winning a league title, Liverpool have continued to win competitions and add to the history of the club. The Premier League may offer entrance to the Champions League but it does not provide the club with any chance of silverware. Some may argue that plans should be made now in order to limit potential problems from fatigue and injury to disrupt Liverpool's plans, whatever they may be. Southampton and Manchester United have an easier workload in comparison to Merseyside's finest, but Liverpool will have played both by the end of next month.
Would victories over Crystal Palace and Besiktas feel hollow after a defeat to a rested Southampton side? Can a Europa League trip to Turkey hold greater importance than an early Sunday afternoon with Manchester City at Anfield? Should these ties be sacrificed for the "bread and butter" of consistency in the Premier League, a competition that arguably should be the cornerstone of progress for Liverpool. A Liverpool victory at St Mary's would see the Merseyside club close to within a point of Ronald Koeman's surprise package with Arsenal, Manchester United, and Tottenham engaged in tricky ties. A win alone would be enough, but there could be further benefits from continuing to be the Premier League's in-form side in 2015. Wins against the Saints and the reigning Premier League champions would boost confidence, build momentum, and confirm a recovery of a talented side with only eleven league games left.
What's your advice for business traveller extraordinaire Brendan Rodgers with a busy schedule ahead?