Liverpool’s Champions League hopes rest on their next five matches
On the eve of that Champions League thriller against Olympiakos in December 2004, Steven Gerrard said: “I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning in the UEFA Cup”. He didn’t. Liverpool made it all the way to Istanbul.
The Reds had to beat AC Milan to qualify for the next Champions League campaign as Everton had snatched the last top-four place. Amazingly, they did just that.
Mentality monsters no more
Sixteen years on, a return to Turkey is out of reach. History is not what bothers Liverpool just now. Their pride is wounded. Their belief and competence are being questioned. In a grotesque season of poor form and ill fortune, there’s one more chance to secure a more positive future from the wreckage.
The European Super League has thankfully been kicked into touch. However, Jurgen Klopp’s side might be kicking around the backwaters of the continent rather than playing with the big boys in 2021/22.
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Liverpool are “a Champions League team”
The Europa League is exactly where the Reds are headed if they can’t find the fight for a flying finish. After Joe Willock’s late goal damaged the Reds’ chances of securing Champions League qualification, Andrew Robertson admitted that it would “deflate” the club not to make it back to big midweek nights.
The Scot said: “Liverpool is a Champions League team. We got to the quarter-finals this year – and we are still disappointed with that – and two finals in the space of four years.”
Can Liverpool accept life in the Europa League?
The 2016 Europa campaign under Klopp was almost a glorious one-off aperitif to get those magical European nights roaring again at Anfield. Sevilla ruined the finale.
After a miserable Champions League campaign under Brendan Rodgers in 2014/15, Klopp built a team that was big and bold enough to make those consecutive finals in 2018 and 2019. For Liverpool to be shunted off the main stage now would be a huge backward step. It will also test the resolve of this tight-knit group.
One look at Mo Salah’s reaction to the final whistle against Newcastle (and Leeds) showed exactly what he thought. There is no way the Egyptian wants to be trawling around the lesser spotted cities on Thursday evenings. It might even be the Europa Conference League if Liverpool slide further.
First win at Old Trafford since 2014 needed
The good news is that a Champions League place can be salvaged. It will take huge fortitude, near enough maximum points and a bit of luck elsewhere.
Liverpool are currently four points behind Chelsea with a hazardous trip to Old Trafford on Sunday. Can the Reds relight the spirit of 2009? Beat their fiercest rivals away for the first time under Klopp, and Chelsea will be looking over their shoulder.
The Blues still have to face Manchester City, Leicester, Arsenal and Aston Villa in the next couple of weeks. They have more than half an eye on their Champions League return against Real Madrid and potential final.
If the Reds can secure maximum points from their remaining four fixtures– Southampton, Burnley, West Brom and Crystal Palace – then there is definitely a chance.
Liverpool will have to suffer a lot from here until May 23. This club never does things the easy way. If they can go into the last game against Palace needing a win, they would bite your hand off now. There are 15 points to fight for. As the t-shirt said: “Never Give Up.”