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Euro exit frees up Reds for assault on 'top four'

When Dejan Lovren's penalty soared high over the bar in Istanbul the Liverpool players would not have been thinking about silver linings with the chance of a trophy having just slipped away.

Yet as their delayed flight touched down and the weary passengers trudged through Liverpool's John Lennon airport in Friday's early hours, there may have been a collective sigh of relief that an energy-sapping Europa League campaign had ended.

Although defeat by Besiktas at the scene of one of Liverpool's greatest European triumphs closed off a potential route to the Champions League, it increased their chances of reaching Europe's elite via a top-four Premier League finish.


Having arrived home just 55 hours before hosting title-chasing Manchester City, the cost of Europe's second-tier competition and the demands it places on clubs without sprawling squads would have been all too evident.

It will be a hard task for Liverpool's fatigued players to match up to City and their vast and expensively acquired array of talents at Anfield on Sunday having had two days fewer to recuperate than their well-resourced opponents.

Having dragged themselves back into contention for a top- four finish following a woeful start to the season, the Europa League was only going to jeopardise hopes of carrying on a recent revival which has brought five wins in six league games.

The second legs of the Europa League's last 16 are scheduled for three days before Liverpool face top-four rivals Manchester United at Anfield. The first leg of semi-final would have been three days before they played league leaders Chelsea away.

It is certainly not the time to be dwelling on what might have been.

"We can just now concentrate on our league campaign, which is now going better, and we have an excellent opportunity in other competitions," manager Brendan Rodgers said.

Jordan Henderson was left behind to nurse a slight ankle problem, while defender Mamadou Sakho has missed their last two games with a hip problem and captain Steven Gerrard and midfield shield Lucas Leiva remain sidelined.

That leaves Rodgers with little wriggle room to rotate those players who completed the full 120 minutes against Besiktas.