After Liverpool’s dreams of back-to-back Premier League titles crashed and burned – along with their peerless home record – the Reds will be looking to Europe to provide a port in a pretty powerful storm.
After Jürgen Klopp’s side left Manchester City in their dust last term, the roles have been reversed. Pep Guardiola looks certain to add another league trophy to his collection, after his team overcame a patchy start to go on a winning streak which has bucked the inconsistency trend affecting the other 19 clubs in this strangest of seasons.
But the situation is rather different for Liverpool than it was for City in 2019/20. While they were some way off the Reds – 18 points, to be exact – City still finished comfortably in second and never looked like they would miss out on Champions League football.
The same cannot be said for Liverpool right now. While they are certainly not out of the race for the top four, their worrying league form has seen them drop into mid-table. Unless they Reds can put together another run of wins, they may not be able to take part in the elite European competition in 2021/22.
This could have disastrous consequences. Klopp has said in no uncertain terms that he believes none of his players would demand a transfer if they team fails to qualify for the Champions League, but I’m not sure I share his optimism. While I’d be confident in saying that would be true for some – perhaps most – of the team, there could be some who decide they need to move on, without naming names.
And it would almost certainly dissuade Europe’s top players from signing for the Reds, if they cannot play in the most reputable competition around. There has been a lot of talk around a marquee move for Kylian Mbappé, but it’s unlikely the world’s best young player would opt to trade in his cushy, well-paid role as Paris Saint-Germain’s poster boy for trips to Kazakhstan and Cyprus on a Thursday night.
That’s why success in this season’s Champions League might end up being so important – not just for Liverpool’s current season, but also for the club’s immediate future.
For all the Reds’ recent problems in the Premier League, their European campaign thus far has been almost flawless. The group stage was navigated with ease, finishing top of a group which may have looked easy on paper, but which contained two clubs which have made it to the latter stages of the competition in recent years in Ajax and Atalanta.
Then the Reds were drawn against RB Leipzig for their first knockout tie. The free-flowing attacking style of Julian Nagelsmann’s side caused many to speculate it would be a very difficult draw for Liverpool, but a convincing 4-0 aggregate victory over the two legs put them within five games of lifting the trophy.
We have to hope these positive results in Europe continue. After all, winning the competition this season might well be the only way the Reds qualify to take part in it again in the next campaign.
While we can remain confident that this Liverpool side is capable of stopping the rot and getting back on track in the Premier League, it’s possible the damage may already have been done with only 10 matches left in the season.Embed from Getty Images
The Reds are one of eight sides left in the Champions League. There can be no so-called ‘famous European nights’ at Anfield with no fans in the stadium to create the kind of frenzied atmosphere we’ve come to see on those very special occasions, but adding a seventh European Cup trophy to their collection would be another marquee moment for Liverpool and their long-running love affair with this competition.
Istanbul’s Atatürk Stadium was the site of what is probably Liverpool’s most memorable European success, as they came from three behind to beat Milan in the 2005 final. They will hope to return to that very same stadium later this year to create another golden memory for the scrapbook.
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