Do you remember the days when English sides reigned supreme in Europe?
Back when Manchester City were still a pub side and Tottenham the footballing equivalent of a dressage. When the top 4 didn’t mean the top 6 and when Arsenal, Chelsea, United and Liverpool battled it out each year in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Those were the days eh? That Luis Garcia goal against Chelsea, that Ronaldo free kick against Arsenal, and that John Terry penalty against Manchester United. With so many strong English sides, the Premier League really did reign supreme (even if everyone generally lost to Barcelona).
But then came the years of drought, pestilence and Europa League finals where English sides went up against Europe’s elite and looked 2 yards and 3 light years off the pace set by Barca, Real, Bayern and the like.
Liverpool couldn’t get into the competition, and when they did they didn’t get out the group. Likewise, United.
Arsenal obviously got to the last 16, but then they played Bayern and we all know what happened next. Even Chelsea started flitting in and out of the qualification positions, leaving Manchester City to mount England’s best effort in recent years; reaching the Semi Final in 2016.
But oh, how things have changed.
Today we are the glorious position of having a full 5 English sides in the last 16 of the Champions League. And what a ride it has been so far. The group stages saw Chelsea dispatch Atletico, while the highlights of Tottenham’s victory against Real Madrid has already sold 14,000 copies.
Would it all come crashing down in the round of 16? Not likely.
City pulled Basel’s pants down in front of their own fans, winning 4-0 and Liverpool did the same to Porto, going one better with a 5-0 return (also becoming the top scorers in the competition). Tottenham even did their bit, coming from 2-0 down to secure a draw against Juventus away from home. It truly is the stuff of dreams.
In the coming round of fixtures, Chelsea face a difficult tie against Barcelona, but United will face a wholly beatable Sevilla, meaning there is a very good chance that English sides will represent 50% of the quarter final draw and should that happen, it would be criminal if an English side didn’t go onto win the competition.
The obvious candidate for glory is of course Manchester City, a team boasting imperious domestic and European form, backed with a stellar squad and a manager who has already won the competition twice. And sure, they may well do it. There isn’t a team in the world that they aren’t capable of beating and this season they have proven there aren’t many capable of beating them.
There is one though, Liverpool, who ended City’s attempt at an unbeaten season and a side who a quite possible the best bet at an English side winning the competition. I’ll give you three reasons why.
Liverpool live on the counter attack.
If you type Liverpool Football Club into Google Maps, the tech giant will zoom into Merseyside and the pin will land on a little spot called ‘the counter attack’. It’s where Liverpool have lived for a few years, since Jurgen Klopp arrived and decreed ‘Heavy Metal Football’ for ever more, but since the loss of Philippe Coutinho, it’s gotten silly.
You see, Liverpool boast one of the best attacks in world football, supplemented by a wholly average midfield and defence (in European terms).
The beautiful result is what you saw in the game against Tottenham where in the space of a few minutes Liverpool conceded a penalty, went up the other end and scored a goal of the season contender to win the game, before someone conceding another penalty and drawing. The mind boggles.
But whereas over the course of a Premier League season that devil-may-care attitude will write a team out of title contention, in the Champions League it is the perfect way to ambush Europe’s giants.
Just imagine two minutes into Liverpool’s first leg tie against Bayern Munich at the Allianz arena, Trent Alexander-Arnold goes in tight on Arjen Robben and the ball spills to Emre Can who turns and plays a ball down the flank, in behind David Alaba.
Salah is onto it in a flash and as he cuts inside Roberto Firmino darts in behind Mats Hummels, receiving the ball in with Manuel Neuer rushing at out him at a rate of knots, but instead of trying to slide the ball under the German powerhouse, Firmino plays it sideways and into the path of Sadio Mane who with an open goal rolls the ball home, putting Liverpool 1-0.
Klopp’s side will concede, there is no doubt about that. But they will also score, and scoring is the key to success. Liverpool’s games will be fast, furious and frantic. But their unconventional approach might just catch their opponents cold. The question will if their back 5 can do their bit to match.
Liverpool live for the big games.
Many women of a certain age live for Prosecco, just as Liverpool live for the big games. At the beginning of this season Liverpool had the best record against the rest of the ‘top 6’, winning nearly half of their games.
This season hasn’t been quite so stellar with heavy losses against Manchester City and Tottenham. But victory over City proved that Klopp’s side still had the juice when it came to the biggest of occasions.
In many ways, it is Liverpool’s furious style which makes them best suited to turn up against the most prestigious of opposition.
It is certainly easier to justify chasing down lost causes when you are running alongside Sergio Ramos, rather than Gareth McAuley and in fact, Liverpool would probably have less chance of winning the Champions League if Bournemouth were waiting in the final instead of Bayern.
Thankfully then, that isn’t going to happen and with the pressure only set to rise, Liverpool’s love for the big occasion stands as one further reason to count them in as contenders.
Liverpool have beaten the best side in Europe.
The final reason to back Liverpool as England’s best chance at Champions League glory comes down to a simple feat of logic. Namely this:
Manchester City are the best side in Europe. Liverpool defeated Manchester City. Liverpool are therefore the best side in Europe.
(Let’s leave out the bit about Swansea being even better than Liverpool.)
So, there you have it, three reasons why Liverpool are the best English shot at glory. All in all, though, English sides are having a fantastic season in Europe this time around and long may it continue. God save the Queen.
Written by Scott Pope
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