Any honest Liverpool supporter would admit that this season has not gone the way anyone would have preferred. Although seeing Brendan Rodgers ousted for Jürgen Klopp has definitely added to the excitement of the way things have unfolded. It has been a treat to see Klopp dancing and screaming on the sidelines and it is by no means near ending.
At the beginning of the season the objective would have been Champions League qualification, as it should be for a club of Liverpool’s magnitude. This objective has always seemed just out of reach and slightly unobtainable.
Currently Jürgen Klopp faces a dilemma. He has two possible avenues to guide Liverpool back into Europe’s elite competition. His side are in the round of 16 in the Europa League in what promises to be an electric tie against Manchester United. Then there is what is viewed to be the conventional manner, where Champions League qualification is concerned, and that is finishing inside of the top four places in the Premier League.
Klopp said himself that Liverpool’s clearest route back into Europe’s finest is through the Europa League but that was before the round of 32 against Augsburg FC. At that point Liverpool were 9 points off of fourth spot in the Premier League and now with teams dropping points left, right and centre Liverpool are in a much more favourable position being 6 points off with a game in hand.
Liverpool have been, for the most part, wholly unimpressive in the Europa League. 3 wins from 8 games is a fairly poor record but the fact that progression to the round of 16 has been possible in spite of the lack of wins. Technically Liverpool could make it to the final in Basel at the St. Jakob-Park without winning a game. For this reason I think the away goal rule is ridiculous but that’s a different story for another day.
One could suggest that the current crop of Liverpool players have developed a certain mentality which makes them suitable for cup football. This is reflected in the fact that Liverpool made it to the semi-final of the Capital One Cup last season and this season to the final. Third time lucky, eh?
It is just days away from the round of 16 clash which sees Manchester United visit Anfield in the first European meeting between the two. This is quite phenomenal when you take in to consideration both the rivalry and the length of time in which both sides were in Europe fight for trophies. Both sides will not wish to lose not least because of the rivalry but the reward is great.
As far as form goes, Liverpool go into the clash looking in fine fettle have secured a dramatic, albeit controversial win against Crystal Palace on the weekend. Manchester United, however, were also guilty to losing a man to a red card for two bookable offences. Juan Mata received his marching orders after receiving two yellow cards within two minutes. Salomon Rondon scored the winner for West Bromwich.
As far as most European ties go, the norm is that the form guide gets torn into pieces as logic and reason go out the window with the shredded remains of the form guide. This means that regardless of how United may have performed on Sunday they will offer a stern test for Jürgen Klopp’s side.
Despite United beating Liverpool twice this season already there is a lot to indicate that Liverpool can beat their eternal rivals.Firstly, the form of Roberto Firmino should worry Louis Van Gaal greatly. His record since the turn of the is 7 goals and 4 assists making him the player in England with the most goal actions. Another player on form, ironically is James Milner. If you look past his almost youthful red card it has been almost impossible to fault him in the last few weeks.
If Liverpool can make positive progress in the first leg and see out the return leg at Old Trafford then Champions League qualification will be all that more realistic. Jürgen Klopp will be very conscious of not getting carried away while still harbouring the fact that this could be the beginning of a brilliant cup journey.