Merseyside Derby: Brendan Rodgers happy for Liverpool to embrace Fair Play route to Europe

Manager denies playing down desire for Europa League qualification

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The Independent Football

The Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, has insisted that his side do want a place in Europe next season via the Uefa Fair Play League, declaring that he was joking when he implied the opposite four days ago.

The Anfield club have an outside chance of securing qualification for the Europa League via the fair play route, under which Uefa offers a place to the top-ranking club in each of Europe’s top three fairest leagues. England currently lies fourth behind Finland, Sweden and Norway but Liverpool could be offered a place if the Premier League’s position improves over the final weeks of the season.

Rodgers suggested on Tuesday that this route was of no interest, though ahead of an Anfield Merseyside derby that could boost the club’s attempts to qualify, he offered a different picture. “I think I was asked the question last week and [my reply] was obviously meant as a joke, but it gets reportedly differently,” Rodgers said. “We want to be in European football however it comes, but obviously we’d prefer to go down the football route. As a football club you have to [accept the offer]. I don’t think it’s something you can turn down if you get an opportunity to go into European football.

“The journey we had this year in the Europa League, all the players thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great exercise for us. We were bitterly disappointed to go out. If we got the chance to do it again, for sure we would.”

The highest-placed teams above Liverpool in the Premier League and its fair play index – Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United – are all likely to qualify for European competition through their league placings. That would leave Liverpool with a strong prospect of qualification – but also with a clash of priorities between the competition and a lucrative pre-season tour in areas where they are looking to build commercial partnerships.

Liverpool’s season would start on 18 July if they entered the Europa League at the second qualifying round, and the second leg would clash with the club’s lucrative pre-season tour of south-east Asia and Australia. That seemed to explain why Rodgers said in midweek that it was “not something I would be keen on. I want to get there through the right means, through our performance level, and if we have to have a year where we are not in Europe it is going to give us an opportunity to push on”.

The Everton manager, David Moyes, said finishing in a European place enhanced the chance of securing targets in the summer transfer window. “The higher up you finish you get more money, but finishing in Europe is attractive for most players. The focus is to get one of those spots. It will be tough but we will do whatever we can,” he said.

Asked what it would mean to him to finish above Liverpool for a second successive season, he said: “Nothing personally for me but for the club and supporters a lot. It tells you that we are keeping and trying to stay a bit closer to the teams at the top of league. I don’t think [Liverpool’s] main goal would be to keep close to us but for us to finish above them would be something. I don’t think we’ve finished close often enough. We’re still close enough to have an outside chance [of Europe].”

Moyes said Jamie Carragher’s decision to retire – making this his last Merseyside derby – did not seem the wrong one, despite the 35-year-old having worked his way back into Rodgers’ first-choice XI since reaching the decision. “I’m not surprised but I think he has played really well and he will go out on the top,” Moyes said. “That’s why everyone is saying to him to keep playing. He could easily play longer but I respect his decision and in a way he may be looking forward to having his time up. He has had a great career.”

Rodgers will have virtually a fully-fit squad to choose from tomorrow. Steven Gerrard’s long-standing shoulder problem is not expected to prevent his participation. Forward Fabio Borini is edging closer to match fitness and is likely to be among the substitutes again.