Liverpool supporters have often been associated with riding off past success.
The club was one of the dominant forces of English and European football in the 70s and 80s but have since seen their domestic title count eclipsed by bitter rivals Manchester United and various other European giants pick up multiple European trophies.
The most recent high profile addition to the trophy cabinet was the club’s fifth European Cup in 2005.
Since then, continental competition has not borne fruit for the Merseyside club, falling twice at the final hurdle, firstly in the Champions League in 2007 and then in the Europa League in 2016.
This campaign represents only Liverpool’s third appearance in Europe’s premier competition in the last nine years but many are optimistic about the Reds’ chances of going all the way this time.
Over the course of the season, Jurgen Klopp's side have been playing an exciting brand of football that some pundits have claimed could be enough to take them to Kiev in May.
Last week, Liverpool completed their straightforward elimination of FC Porto 5-0 on aggregate and now await the draw on Friday 16th March to see who their opponents will be in the quarterfinals.
The competition is strong. Last year’s winners Real Madrid, Italian champions Juventus and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City already have their names in the hat, with other high-profile teams to join this week.
It is not a common occurrence for Liverpool and Manchester United to heap praise on one another and so it speaks volumes that Rio Ferdinand has claimed Liverpool have the potential to go all the way.
“I think they have got the potential… they are going to be a hard proposition for any team in this tournament,” opined the former Red Devil.
Attack is the best form of defence
The reasoning behind his comments are that Liverpool have one of the most potent attacks in Europe.
In the Champions League this season, no team has scored more goals than them. Liverpool’s goal threat comes from multiple sources, too. Teams like Real Madrid, for example, can often be too reliant on their star man but Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have scored eight, seven and six goals respectively in Europe this season. Even if one of the front three has an off day, his teammates are likely to produce the goods.
It is undeniable that Liverpool still have their issues at the back although, perhaps surprisingly, no goalkeeper has more clean sheets than Loris Karius in the Champions League this year. It is hard to envisage the Reds travelling to the Santiago Bernabeu, for instance, and shutting out the opposition. But it is equally difficult to imagine Liverpool not generating enough chances to score a few goals.
Little has changed in that regard over the last few years. Looking back to the Europa League quarterfinal against Borussia Dortmund in 2016, Dejan Lovren scored a dramatic last-minute winner to send Liverpool through 5-4 on aggregate. It wouldn’t surprise many people to see Liverpool progress with similar scorelines in the latter stages of the Champions League this campaign.
In Mane and Salah, Liverpool have blistering pace up front. Both players are renowned for their speed not only of foot but of thought, with their ingenuity fundamental to the counter-attacks that are so intrinsic to Liverpool's game.
Given the teams Liverpool are likely to face in the next stage of the competition, Jurgen Klopp will hatch a plan on how best to exploit the lack of possession Liverpool are likely to enjoy.
A memorable instance of this was Arsenal’s trip to Anfield back in August of this season. The Gunners enjoyed more possession than the home team but were ruthlessly picked off, losing 4-0. Salah’s goal came from an Arsenal corner, winning the ball from the defensive clearance and sprinting clear to finish past the goalkeeper.
Liverpool’s main problem in the league has been breaking down compact, defensive teams. They are unlikely to face sides that are content with scoreless draws at this stage of the Champions League and, given that the ties are knockouts, teams eventually have to come out and look for victory in one shape or another, rendering them vulnerable to Liverpool’s pace.
Karius coming good
Goalkeeper Loris Karius has attracted a lot of negative feedback after his start to life on Merseyside.
Provided with a run in the team shortly after his arrival in the summer of 2016, his poor form led to the return of Simon Mignolet. The Belgian stopper, however, threw away his chance at redemption and Klopp handed the first team spot back to the former Mainz 05 goalkeeper.
Since becoming the first choice keeper in January, Karius has started to show the form which prompted Klopp to spend almost £5 million on his services. Liverpool have been lacking a strong goalkeeper and many muse on what could be if a keeper of, say, David de Gea’s quality was number one at Anfield.
The 24-year-old German is far from the finished product but, as his confidence grows, so too will his skills. A confident, in-form goalkeeper could make all the difference in the upcoming knockout ties.
Liverpool are not the favourites for this edition of the Champions League, with reason. Nevertheless, they are many pundits’ dark horse in the competition given the sheer power they have in front of goal.
They’ve proven that they can kick it with the best, being the only team to defeat Manchester City in the Premier League this year. If Jurgen Klopp can bring the best out of his team in the remainder of the competition, then they could go far deeper than anyone expected at the beginning of the season.
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