Liverpool are a team to be feared in this year’s Champions League and despite the fact that questions remain over Jurgen Klopp’s side’s ability to defend, there is no questioning the Reds’ attacking credentials.
The beginning of the 2017/18 season was an odd one for Liverpool fans as Manchester City and Tottenham scored a combined 9 goals against the Merseysiders in total capitulations at the Etihad and Wembley.
It was strange to see Klopp’s side so poor against the bigger sides in the league after not losing a single game to a team in the top six last season.
Arsenal were swept aside in a 4-0 victory at home but the Gunners are infamous for lacking spine in contests against sides near the top of the table.
The only game that the Reds have won against a top six team this season was that game against Manchester City at Anfield in January.
Manchester United and Chelsea are yet to play a second game against Liverpool in the Premier League season but the 4-3 victory over City is evidence to suggest that Klopp can guide his side deep into the Champions League this season.
I apologise to any Arsenal fan reading this as I’m likely to use the Gunners as an example of a poor European record.
In the last 10 years, Arsene Wenger has exited the competition at the Round of 16 stage 7 times and only made it to one semi-final since his side of 2005/06 lost in the final to Barcelona.
While it might be prudent to admit that Liverpool have only qualified for the tournament proper five times in the last decade and have only made it to the knockout stages twice since 2007.
Of course, with the legendary success in 2005 at Istanbul and four other European Cup wins prior, Liverpool have standing among the continent’s best and although past successes won’t directly help Klopp and his players reach the ultimate goal, it’s worth a substantial amount that supporters of past generations know what it’s like to win and can spur the Reds to glory.
When all is said and done, however, the real danger to the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern and Porto in the Round of 16 will be the threat posed going forward by Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
Between the three of them, they’ve scored a combined 58 goals this season and there are very few defenders, if any, who will feel confident they can match the trio for their pace, trickery on the ball and ability to finish from all kinds of situations.
Despite only signing from Roma in the summer for £37m, Mo Salah has scored an incredible 29 goals in all competitions this season and is undoubtedly the best buy in all of Europe as far as value for money is concerned.
Yet, you can argue that although the personnel involved are essential to the way Liverpool play, it’s more about how Klopp has his players go about dismantling top sides.
With the teams remaining in the Champions League, you can expect opposition sides to dominate possession given the midfielders on hand at Anfield.
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While Emre Can, Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson all possess traits that make them good players, none of them are ball-playing midfielders that have the composure to keep the ball under pressure for an extended period of time.
It’s for this reason that West Brom were able to beat the Reds in the FA Cup last month.
That said, however, Klopp has turned a weakness in his team into a strength by having his players play on the counter attack against sides that have the intent to press the ball and the quality to punish any mistakes made in dangerous areas.
As we saw when Liverpool raced into a 4-1 lead against Manchester City, the containment strategies and high pressure that was applied to the league leaders’ backline in order to ensure they couldn’t dictate play will be applicable if the Reds draw the likes of Barcelona in the next round.
The goals that Salah and Sadio Mane scored came after pressure was applied to a back five usually capable of playing out from the back with ease.
While Klopp won’t be expecting to get multiple goals per game from his high pressing against sides likes Bayern or Juve, the German has said in the past that geggenpressing can serve as an additional creative player due to the chances it can create in dangerous positions.
It’s too soon to talk about a quarter-final appearance and it would be disrespectful to a top opponent in Porto. With the likes of Aboubakar and Yacine Brahimi, the Portuguese outfit is unbeaten in the Premeira Liga and can hurt Liverpool if they aren’t careful.
That said, Klopp is experienced on the European stage and if there is a manager that can defy the odds and guide Liverpool to a Champions League this season it’s the former Borussia Dortmund manager.
Having made it to the final before with the Bundesliga side, Klopp will be looking to relive memories of defeating Real Madrid in the semi-final while overcoming nightmares of losing to Bayern Munich in extra time at the last hurdle.
It’s unlikely that Klopp will ever be able to replicate exactly his success in 2013 with Dortmund but there is faith among the Liverpool fanbase that he is the perfect manager in both character and style to guide the club back to the glory days that are spoken so fondly of by the older generation of supporters.