It came out over the weekend that the Premier League is contemplating a playoff for the final Champions League qualification spot. Naturally, as a Liverpool fan during their worst season in recent memory, I'm conflicted.
It's little surprise that United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool are the four clubs opposed to this plan. They're the Big 4. These clubs see the Champions League as their birthright, and these four clubs have contested the places for the past four seasons. Only Everton broke up the cartel in '04-05, only to see Liverpool make the tournament by winning in Istanbul and for Everton to lose in the qualifying round.
But I'm less opposed to the plan, and, as said above, a bit conflicted.
First, let me say I'm not a fan of playoffs in principle. What's the point of the regular league season if 4th through 7th are basically meaningless? Also, the fixture list is already packed, with more and more clubs seeing players injured because of the amount they're playing for club and country. Wembley already hosts the playoff finals for the lower leagues; when will these matches be played?
But there is historical precedent for a playoff, with most leagues using the system. Promotion from the Championship, League One, and League Two are decided by playoffs, with the aforementioned finals at Wembley.
Plus, the extra games at the end of the season who preclude the ignominious Game 39 from taking place. That's a big benefit in and of itself.
Also, while this is putting the cart far ahead of the horse, you'd have to fancy Liverpool in a knockout competition for the final CL spot. The team almost always plays better with backs against the wall and in a one-game playoff, and has the European experience to not be overawed by the competition. To be honest, I'd expect the likes of Spurs, Villa, and City – this season's European contenders – to wilt under the lights, at least at the first time of asking.
Were this idea already instituted, Liverpool would have only been in the playoffs once under Benitez – in 2007/08. The other time Liverpool finished outside the top three was 04/05, and they would have made the CL as the previous year's Champions.
Here's what the playoffs would have looked like since 05/06:
'08/09: Arsenal, Everton, Villa, and Fulham.
'07/08: Liverpool, Everton, Villa, Blackburn
'06/07: Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton, Bolton
'05/06: Arsenal, Tottenham, Blackburn, Newcastle
You see a few of the same names, but no team's there for all four years. Seventh place is different every season; Blackburn and Bolton are now decidedly lower-mid table, while Newcastle's in the Championship.
As a Liverpool fan, I can see how this would hurt the club. And I truly don't like to see the regular season diminished, which this plan would do. But the idea's interesting, and would definitely change the European participants from time to time. I know Platini loves that idea.
The saddest thing is, the plan might actually help Liverpool this season, although it wouldn't be invoked for at least three seasons because of the preexisting TV deal.
The plan was proposed at a Premier League meeting last week, and we'll find out if it has any legs at the next meeting next month. Hopefully, by then, Liverpool's predicament will also be clearer.