LIVERPOOL take a big step into the unknown on Thursday as the Brendan Rodgers era begins in earnest.
The Europa League is no doubt the poor relation compared to the Champions League, but I believe Rodgers will have to take the competition seriously this season.
Certainly during the early stages. The last thing the new manager will want is an early exit from Europe.
The bonus of such early qualifying games is, that while Rodgers may regard it as being a bit of a pain, it at least gives his players competitive action ahead of the Premier League season.
Everything else in pre-season has nothing at stake.
Liverpool have never played in Belarus before and I’d be amazed if any supporters knew much about FC Gomel before the draw was made.
The team that Rodgers puts out is likely to be one much different to that which takes the field at West Bromwich Albion in a fortnight when the Premier League starts.
But I suspect Rodgers will hold great store by how his team react to this early game. If you listen to him, the Northern Irishman talks not really about the ability of his players but more their mental attitude.
I’m not quite sure what team he will pick, but no doubt he will realise if he gets off to a good start Liverpool can qualify as quickly as possible.
The great thing, though, is that there will be a second leg next week, and that will make a difference. The opposition won’t be as unknown and there’ll be time to have a few more senior players back in action.