Ethan Golding explains why this year’s Champions League campaign will serve as a message of Liverpool’s arrival on the big stage despite the Reds making it to the final last season.
Liverpool’s Champions League run last year shocked the footballing world. It was widely acknowledged that on their day, Klopp’s Reds could beat any team in Europe, however, the two leg structure of the competition and a four-year absence meant nobody really expected a legitimate challenge.
Dominate displays against lesser sides and spellbinding wins against Champions elect meant that the ultimately unsuccessful journey to the final will live long in the memory and has in many ways signalled the true start of Jürgen Klopp’s reign.
Three years of building and recruiting have resulted in a Liverpool side that is the strongest it’s looked since the start of the 1990s. In my own lifetime, I have not witnessed a Liverpool side where the question of who makes the starting XI stretches beyond a list of twelve or thirteen names.
However, while Liverpool were UEFA Champions League finalists last season, the road to the final was not as difficult or as high profile as it could have been or as rival fans would have liked.
Undefeated in the group stages and with away trips to Seville, Moscow and Maribor while domestic rivals made their way to Madrid, Dortmund and Sarri’s superstar Napoli, means that outside of England, Liverpool’s stock may not be as high as it should be.
Despite Liverpool widely acknowledged as the primary challengers to Manchester City’s title and despite Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis thoughts on this season’s Champions League groups (“Liverpool, Champions League finalists, are put in pot 3? It is a disastrous anomaly.”), PSG star Neymar Jr. doesn’t believe Liverpool will even finish inside the top four in this year’s English Premier League.
So, Liverpool’s involvement in this season’s potential Group of Death alongside the French giants and a Napoli side (that may not be as strong as it was under Sarri) managed by 5 time UCL winner Carlo Ancelotti represents a chance for Klopp’s side to fully announce themselves on the European stage.
There are few teams that can boast both quality on the pitch and atmosphere surrounding it. Dortmund have mostly struggled in Europe since reaching the final in 2013, and while many Turkish and Greek sides boast incredible atmospheres inside their grounds, often lack high-quality sides.
This kind of combination is what often gives Liverpool the psychological edge in high-pressure games and what separates the top quality players from the world class, and the true masters of the game from the pretenders.
Players who have been touted as some of the best, Insigne, Mertens, Koulibaly, Neymar, Mbappe et al will be put under a microscope unlike any others, and players such as Adrien Rabiot who are considering their future may have their heads fully turned.
After Tuesday, regardless of this result, a handful of Europe’s best players will have seen firsthand what Liverpool are all about and why European nights at Anfield are ingrained in the folklore of European club football.