LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 14: Andy Carroll of Liverpool (2R) scores their second goal during the FA Cup with Budweiser Semi Final match between Liverpool and Everton at Wembley Stadium on April 14, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Liverpool may have done Chelsea a favour today in beating Everton 2-1 to reach the FA Cup final. It all depends on what you think of the Europa League. The Reds have already secured a spot in the competition thanks to their Carling Cup win against Cardiff City, which means that if they win the competition, the last spot would go the runners up, which would be one of Tottenham Hotspur or Chelsea.
If Spurs advance, they will presumably qualify for Europe via their league place, which means that the FA Cup runners' up position would then go to the sixth-placed team in the league, and with the Blues ten points clear of seventh finishing out of that top six is highly unlikely. If Chelsea advance, they're guaranteed a Europa League spot whatever happens, win or lose in the final. In other words, they're now almost certainly going to be playing European football next season.
Of course, some consider Europa a prize not really worth fighting for, a lesser version of the Champions League. I'm not entirely sure that that's true, although that's certainly a reasonable perception. 'Top' teams playing in Europa have tended to find themselves distracted by domestic play rather than wanting to play a set of grueling European matches - Manchester United and Manchester City certainly didn't take the competition particularly seriously this year - but if Chelsea can re-find their domestic form this could be a very useful way of bringing fringey members of the squad into play.
Six guaranteed matches that nobody really cares about would be a perfect time for the likes of Ryan Bertrand, Romelu Lukaku and whoever else isn't a regular starter and isn't out on loan to be starting for Chelsea. Sure, the Europa League is supposed to be a real competition, but if the club treats it as a European Reserves Cup, we can probably make some good use of it.
So, that's the booby prize secured. Time to make this conversation irrelevant by finishing fourth.