The Europa League enters its knockout stage this week as Liverpool, Tottenham, Newcastle and Chelsea are all in action. The competition incorporates many teams from the furthest reaches of Uefa’s vast boundaries and that occasionally means a long old round trip for some teams. For Atletico Madrid and Rubin Kazan it is the most arduous journey of the lot; with second place a close tie between Bordeaux and Dynamo Kiev and the one of Newcastle United v Metalist Kharkiv. Hannover to Makhachkala will also be no picnic while I also struggle to envy the round trip from Basel to Dniproprovetsk.
So while all these mammoth journeys may eclipse the one Liverpool have to make on Thursday it should still not be shirked at; it’s about 2132km (1325 miles) from Liverpool to St Petersburg in Russia.
Liverpool face the Russian side who were eliminated from the Champions League Group Stages in what will be a hostile stadium and if you want to look at who will be fresher for the game then let me make it simple for you; it will definitely be Zenit.
Zenit have been enjoying a winter break and have not played a competitive game since drawing 1-1 with Anzhi in the Russian Premier League on the 10th December 2012. In that period off they have played in a few friendly competitions and performed; pretty poorly actually but that is beside the point they come into the game off of what is essentially a pre-season training regimen fresh and ready for action; or for the more optimistic Liverpool fan ‘out-of-match practice’.
Liverpool however played on Monday. Meaning they have to schedule a long haul flight into proceedings before a game on Thursday night and will also have to do some sort of training in that time as well. Lest we forget the temperature in St Petersburg today is a Baltic -2 degrees.
The mind boggles how the Premier League could schedule a game for Liverpool just a few days before they head out almost as east as you can go in the competition this season to a hostile atmosphere in the freezing Russian cold against a side who are fresh and well trained; it is like sending lambs to the slaughter.
Hopefully Liverpool will overcome and rise above the barriers placed in front of them by their own football association but the madness doesn’t stop there. For the good of TV Manchester United played on Sunday evening ahead of a crunch Champions League trip to Madrid on Wednesday leading Sir Alex Ferguson to say this:
‘’There's no fairness at all, it's ridiculous to think that we play on Sunday and Real Madrid play on Saturday with that extra day's rest. We're not giving our teams a chance to be successful in Europe. Leagues in other countries make sacrifices for their teams. It's nothing to do with the FA, it's the Premier League. They agreed a contract with TV and they're in control. It's pointless complaining about these things all the time.’’
‘’What can you do? Not turn up? I'd love to do that. When we played in Europe on a Wednesday (in 2008) and then had to play Chelsea at lunchtime on a Saturday, it was a league decider really. We lost 2-1 and it wasn't the best preparation.’’
Surely The FA have to take some sort of action to avoid this happening again? It is ridiculous and it certainly will not be the last time this season, or next.
Do you think the Premier League should schedule games better to help our domestic teams in Europe?
image: © vortistic