For what feels like the umpteenth time this season, Chelsea manager José Mourinho has taken to the media to express his view on the ‘massive’ advantage Liverpool have in the title race as a result of our absence from the Champions League. These remarks have conveniently popped up each time that Liverpool have threatened to pose a challenge to the crown and are quite simply an attempt to play mind games with our ever-improving side. Despite being as repetitive and irritating as a talking parrot, Mourinho is entitled to his opinion and his comments are probably all good and well – except for the fact that they miss the mark completely.
Well, almost completely. Liverpool do actually have some kind of advantage from not playing in Champions League in that it allows us to have an extended rest period between league fixtures. This means that we can play a fit and strong starting XI week in and week out with very little squad rotation required. That is where the advantage ends though and, when you compare it to the perks that come with playing in the Champions League, you realise that not featuring in the world’s premier club footballing tournament is actually no advantage at all.
The reasons for this are that the Champions League playing clubs receive huge financial rewards for featuring in the tournament. The further they progress the more money they receive and at the end of the day much of this money is spent on players that most non-Champions League playing clubs could only dream of attracting. Thus, the gap between them and teams that finish outside of the top four is extended. This brings Mourinho’s comment about squad fitness into question as the financial gain from Champions League involvement is such that it allows clubs not only to invest in a bigger squad, but a better one too. This advantage becomes clear when you compare the “Special One’s” squad of superstars to the current Liverpool one – I am in no way slating the Liverpool squad but it is clear that our crop of players are lot smaller (in number) and less renowned (in general) than the Chelsea ones.
Playing in the Champions League is also vital for keeping star players at the club. Great players all have the desire to show their skill off at the highest level and the Champions League is the perfect platform for them to do so. Liverpool fans know best that a player’s ambition often overpowers his desire to stay at the club. Fernando Torres jumped ship (to Chelsea ironically enough) when we fell out of Europe and the whole Luis Suarez transfer sage at the start of the season was an absolute nightmare for the club – two situations that would never have arisen had Liverpool been playing Champions League football.
Thankfully, Liverpool managed to hang on to Suarez and have since moved into a position that has given us a strong chance of securing Champions League football for next season. This form has been a direct result of a tactically astute manager, crude business in the transfer market and hours of hard work and passion on and off the pitch by the players – and most definitely not as a result of missing out on Champions League.
Sure, the extra recovery period does come as a blessing from time to time but if you were to ask Mourinho now if he would sacrifice Champions League football for such an extended rest he would end up laughing at you. It is for this exact reason that I find myself shrugging off the Portuguese managers’ misguided comments. The real question Mourinho should be asking is why, despite all the advantages that come with playing in the Champions League, do his Chelsea side still find themselves only four points clear of our Europe-less Liverpool. His persistent attempts at drawing attention away from that fact suggest that it is quite simply a question he cannot answer.