Roy Hodgson admits he will face something of a balancing act to keep Liverpool fighting on all fronts if they’re to progress in Europe this season. The Reds take on Trabzonspor in the first leg of the Europa League play-off tie at Anfield this evening aiming to take a big step towards the group stage of the competition. It’s a tournament Hodgson holds fond feeling for, having guided former club Fulham to the Hamburg final last term against all odds.
However, he acknowledges an extended European jaunt – in addition to the international scheduled – can have a knock-on effect on a team’s domestic aspirations, such is the demand it places on players. But the manager will be doing all he can to ensure that does not happen at Anfield this season.
“I had a good squad at Fulham and we didn’t have too many injuries, so I was quite fortunate in that respect,” Hodgson told a pre-match press conference. “But, quite frankly, if you’re at a club like Liverpool or Fulham, you’ve got a lot of players playing international matches and I think asking a player to play 70 matches a year is totally out of the question. “I don’t think any club can carry the strength or depth of squad to deal with 70 matches, so you’d need an awful lot of luck to go all the way. “I thought last year’s experience with Fulham in getting to the final cost us several places in the league.”
With this in mind, reporters quizzed Hodgson on where his Liverpool team’s priorities will lie this term. He responded: “If you are going to prioritise, you have to prioritise the Premier League over the Europa League, always. “You’d like to do well in both, but if you were forced to choose one to prioritise, you’d always prioritise the Premier League – and I think that would possibly even go for teams playing in the Champions League. “But we take it (the Europa League) very seriously and will be doing our best to play well and win the game.”
Hodgson believes the draw for the Europa League play-off wasn’t favourable to his side, pinpointing Trabzonspor as the most testing of all the potential opponents Liverpool could have been paired with. And though the Bordo-Mavililer may not be as recognisable to some fans as Turkey’s other superpowers Galatasaray and Fenerbahce, the boss knows his troops face a difficult challenge.
“You treat every team you play against in this competition with the utmost respect, and in particular a Turkish team like Trabzonspor,” he said. “They’ve got a very good record in Europe and have played there on a regular basis. They’re in a strong league and we’ve seen what Galatasaray and Fenerbache can do. “Trabzonspor are right up there with those two and, in fact, they beat Fenerbache in the cup final to reach this competition, so we know we are playing against a team of the very highest level. “In that respect, I thought the draw was quite unkind to us. We were one of the seeded teams and I think we definitely got the strongest of the unseeded teams.”
After tackling Senol Gunes’s side at Anfield tonight, Liverpool will travel to the Huseyin Avni Aker stadium for the return meeting next week. It’s a venue renowned for its intimidating atmosphere, leading some to ponder whether Hodgson would have preferred to have contested the second leg of the tie on home soil. But the Reds boss said: “Not necessarily. You play home and away and have to give two good performances, it is as simple as that.
“With Fulham, one or two of our better results came when the first leg was at home and then we went away and gave very good performances – such as in Donetsk, Basel, Wolfsburg and Hamburg. “Whatever happens it’s two legs and you play one game at home and one away. Whether the away game looks easy or difficult on paper doesn’t make a difference – you still have to go there and play. “We would not have been fooled if anyone suggested it wasn’t going to be a difficult game in Trabzonspor, so the fact everyone is telling us how difficult it is going to be won’t make any difference because that’s what we’ve been preparing for anyway.”
Following tonight’s fixture, Liverpool don’t resume action until Monday evening when they make the short journey to Eastlands to cross swords with Manchester City. Hodgson is pleased his players will have an extra day to recuperate, though he is concerned it could have an influence on the Reds’ second-leg planning ahead of the trip to Turkey.
“It’s nice to get that extra day but unfortunately it impacts upon the second leg,” he said. “This is a difficult period for teams involved in European football. It’s not just us, Tottenham are in the same position, as are Manchester City and Aston Villa. We’re not alone in this situation. “Whenever you get a situation where you’re playing six games in two weeks, it asks a lot of questions of your squad and puts pressure on you to try and juggle things a little bit so you don’t end up losing a player because you’ve over exposed him.”