Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Europa League joy will lift Liverpool status, says Nevin

Scotland legend feels trophy would be better than scraping into fourth place

Pat Nevin feels Liverpool have more to gain from winning the Europa League this season than finishing in the top four of the Barclays Premier League.

Finishing in the Champions League positions has obvious financial benefits and missing out on that cash injection is something Liverpool fans fear. Yet, as Liverpool prepare to face Romanian contenders Unirea in the first leg of their last 32 encounter in Europe's secondary competition tomorrow, Nevin, who will be part of Channel Five's commentary team for the game, believes there are justifiable reasons for his statement.

"I am not sure missing out on the top four for one season would make that much difference," said the former Scotland winger. "Obviously the finance is there and if the situation stayed the same for three years, it would be a major issue. But what Liverpool crave is status. Winning a major European trophy gives you that, even if it is not the competition you want.

"I actually feel, given the situation they are in, winning the Europa League would send out a more positive message for Liverpool than scraping into the top four."

Rafael Benitez's side will know a lot more about their prospects for the season by the end of next week. The Reds will then know whether they have secured a last 16 meeting with either Lille or Fenerbahce. In addition, they will have met Manchester City, probably their biggest rivals to that top four place.

Two months ago, Nevin would have feared the worst. Now, he is optimistic, even though Liverpool's last outing ended in defeat at Arsenal. "When you look back to December, they were nowhere near good enough," he said. "But slowly it seems they are managing to turn things around. There is more steel about them, they are more competitive, probably too competitive during the match against Everton recently.

"People have spoken about Liverpool being nothing without Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. Well Torres is still not there and while Gerrard is, it is the rest of the players who have stepped up to the plate."

Liverpool's centre-half Jamie Carragher who has a groin strain and creative midfielder Yossi Benayoun who is also struggling with injury are unlikely to be risked against the Romanians, who impressed during their Champions League campaign under Dan Petrescu before eventually settling for third place, above Rangers.

Liverpool expected far better though, their elimination bringing more pressure on Benitez. It seems remarkable for a manager capable of winning the Champions League to wonder whether he is about to get sacked. However, Benitez's record since that amazing night in Istanbul five years ago has been mediocre at best.

What was once the unquestioned devotion of the Kop is now at least questioning the validity of Benitez's tenure. Not that Nevin is expecting any imminent change.

"If Liverpool had been the way it had always been; a settled structure and the backing of people running the club, Benitez would have been in trouble. Given the state of it now, I am not so sure," he said.

"Who would pull the trigger? Who would decide someone should pull the trigger? At the end of the season, the club needs to sit back and reflect on the situation and decide where it wants to go. Maybe by then they will have new owners anyway who can make their own decisions."