Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool cruised into the Champions League quarter-final after their convincing 5-0 victory over FC Porto in the first leg of their first knockout round tie.
The Merseyside club showed exactly the type of cavalier attacking verve for which they have become known in the Premier League. The Portuguese giants, who are unbeaten domestically this season, simply couldn’t deal with them and it was never really a close contest.
In progressing through to the last eight, Liverpool have recorded their best performance in the Champions League since they reached the same round in the 2008/09 season. The Reds have been starved of real elite continental competition in the years since and Klopp has given then club a real shot in the arm in terms of their reputation abroad.
Under the current FSG ownership structure, qualifying for the Champions League on an annual basis is the goal set for the German coach, however there is a fantastic opportunity for the five-time winners to be the surprise package of this season’s tournament.
Paris-Saint Germain have been eliminated, arguably the most potent attack in Europe, Manchester City remain involved after overcoming FC Basel, yet the Reds have already inflicted the only league defeat on the Champions elect.
Bayern Munich have fantastic organisation under Jupp Heynckes, but they certainly lack individual quality and there is also a sense that Real Madrid’s defensive line wouldn’t be able to deal with the incisiveness of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
To be considered a favourite to win the Champions League, you need a truly strong defence. Liverpool don’t have that but there is no doubting that they can cause any team problems with their attacking play.
Few teams attack as relentlessly as the Reds, it’s similar to how Borussia Dortmund played in the 2012/13 season when they reached the final of the competition. It’s a constant barrage of attacks, and it’s incredibly difficult to prepare for.
Goals change matches, especially away from home under current Champions League rules. Liverpool are capable of scoring against any of the teams left in the competition away from home, this puts them in a position where they will always be in a tie.
It’s difficult to suggest that Klopp and Liverpool are tactically superior to the Spanish champions and Bayern Munich, but they would certainly go at both teams.
Much has been made of Tottenham Hotspur’s Champions League exit on Wednesday and how it was a failure, however it’s merely part of the process of adjusting to life back in the Champions League. Liverpool are living through somewhat of a similar process, however Klopp’s own experiences with Dortmund bring a lot to the dressing room in this regard.
Liverpool lack the goalkeeper and defence to be considered a real favourite to win the Champions League, I think even the most ardent supporter would accept that as being the truth. However, they are very similar to Monaco in last season’s edition, they will simply attack teams and attempt to outscore them and this is very dangerous for teams.
Neither Bayern Munich nor Real Madrid would normally expect to face such a cavalier opponent in the latter stages of the European Cup, the way Liverpool attack demands total concentration for 180 minutes. In reality, the team you feel would be best placed to eliminate Liverpool would be Juventus, such is their defensive organisation and how much they seem to relish defending.
Luck of the draw is also important, Liverpool have a chance of being paired with one of Shakhtar Donetsk or Roma in the quarter-final, the Reds are stronger than both teams and would be favourites to reach the semi final stage.
Salah’s form has been sensational and Firmino has developed his game in a way which makes him the perfect number 9 in Klopp’s system, he’s nowhere near the level of a younger Robert Lewandowski, but his hold-up play has vastly improved.
Virgil van Dijk hasn’t been the instant defensive solution many expected, but he’s settling into the team and will be at full flow by the time the 2018/19 season begins, he still needs a high class partner though. Liverpool and Klopp are building a team, they got a sensational deal when selling Philippe Coutinho, a player who left their midfielder lacking balance.
In Naby Keita, they are signing someone who will rectify that and also minimise the expected departure of Emre Can to Juventus in the summer. Whilst Liverpool are not yet at the end of their development process, Klopp’s team are performing above expectations in both the Premier League and Champions League.
They will finish inside the top four barring a major collapse, and they will also strengthen their team in the summer.
There is no pressure on the team to go any further in the Champions League, they have already surpassed expectations and in this relaxed atmosphere, their incredibly attacking style could see them emerge as surprise contenders this term.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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