LAST CHANCE: CAN LIVERPOOL WIN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE?
With top four hopes faltering, can Liverpool taste Champions League glory again?
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool seem to have a connection with the Champions League, having already reached consecutive finals and winning the trophy for the club sixth time.
The iconic moments seem almost endless, from Divock Origi’s winner to completing the comeback against Barcelona, to the electric front three tearing apart the Manchester City defence.
The now Premier League champions ended their European reign having been knocked out last season by Atletico Madrid, a disappointment but not a disaster as they lifted their first league honour in 30 years.
But there is no domestic distraction for the Reds this year, the title is already on its way to the Etihad and the road to Wednesday night European football for Klopp’s men is closing.
There is one avenue still available and that is winning the Champions League, by no means an easy feat and one that will strike fear into their Merseyside rivals.
In the 2004/05 season Everton finally finished in the top four but missed out on Europe’s most prestigious competition after Liverpool defeated AC Milan in the 2005 final.
With Everton once again in pursuit of the top four, Klopp could stop the Milan manager of that night Carlo Ancelotti but does his squad have enough to beat Europe’s best.
Klopp’s side have been injury ridden with over 20 different centre-back pairings after both Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk had their seasons curtailed by season ending injuries.
With such a small side to begin with, it really hurt Liverpool’s form, but a smaller squad in tournament football doesn’t tend to be as big an issue, as shown by recent winners.
Bayern Munich have an embarrassment of riches, but a fairly steady starting XI as did Real Madrid but the best sides don’t always win knockout competitions.
The 2005 final is a clear example with the AC Milan side being better in every position than Liverpool’s team, but with only 90 minutes to decide a winner it’s anyone’s game.
Klopp’s side beat RB Leipzig 4-0 across both legs and that may have been the kickstart until the end of the season, with Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips offering defensive stability and a consistent pairing.
That selection has allowed Fabinho to move back into midfield, allowing a greater defensive presence that will let Thiago hopefully find his feet in an attacking sense.
The next challenge they face is that of two legs against Real Madrid and if they win that it’ll be Chelsea or Porto in the semi-finals for a place in Europe’s biggest game.
The final also can now only feature one of Manchester City, Bayern Munich or PSG, in my opinion the three best sides which should favour Liverpool.
Although they’re in a slump, this was a side that a year ago pundits were comparing to the Arsenal invincibles and Manchester United’s treble winners, so while their form may be poor, the quality is still there.
The attacking trio is still one of the most lethal in Europe and with the addition of Diogo Jota, they can be rotated and still remain to that level, something not possible since Klopp’s been at Anfield.
They all have the ability to score the goal to decide any tie and if they can remain defensively stable, especially in home legs, they could go all the way once more.
If any further injuries can be avoided Klopp may finally get into his typical way of having a clear best XI which has always been his recipe for success.
If they win the Champions League, it may only be a papering over the cracks of what has been an eye-opening campaign that has shown the reliance on Van Dijk.
While nearly every side would suffer without their best player, very few would’ve been as poor as the Reds have this season and it shows a need for investment this summer.
But without Champions League football at Anfield it becomes harder to attract the best players, once more emphasising the importance of this season’s competition for chances of success in the coming years.