Liverpool’s triumphant two-leg victory over Manchester City was one of the season’s most dramatic and exciting European ties, and put the Merseyside club into the semi-finals, at the same time signaling to the rest of Europe that the Reds are back.
By beating City, Liverpool were recording their best Champions League performance since the 2007-08 season when they beat Arsenal 5-3 to reach the semi-finals, where they eventually lost to Chelsea. Though they have had their moments since then, they haven’t made an impact in Europe since the days when Rafa Benitez was in charge.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the man who has returned them to the top table of European football is another experienced manager with a European pedigree. His record of having taken Borussia Dortmund from obscurity to the Champions League final speaks for itself, and his experience of how to navigate the latter stages of the continent’s top club competition, combined with the thrilling style of play that he has instilled into his team, have enabled Liverpool to cope with the high-pressure knockout games better than their Premier League rivals.
Klopp’s skill and Liverpool’s red-hot form are the key factors behind their rating as second-favorites behind Real Madrid in the Champions League winners market.
Are the pundits and bookmakers right? Could Liverpool challenge Real Madrid and return to the summit of European football? The evidence from this year’s competition is convincing. The Reds navigated a tricky group without suffering defeat before crushing Porto and Manchester City, scoring ten goals and conceding just one in the four matches.
Those impressive victories, particularly the 5-0 win in Porto and the 3-0 home victory over City, were not flukes but a mark of Liverpool’s considerable improvement under Klopp. As well as their European success, they’ve proven themselves to be City’s main rivals in the Premier League, being the first team to beat them in the league this season. And with a goal-scoring rate of 2.29 per game, they are second only to City in potency.
This hasn’t happened overnight. Klopp has toiled long and hard on the training ground to get his players to put his high-pressing game into practice, and to build up the tactical awareness to make it successful. However, as the season has worn on, the attacking verve that was on display sporadically last year has become more consistent and the team has begun to play in a way that evokes memories of the great dominant Liverpool sides of the 1970s and 1980s.
Crucial to their chances of Champions League glory will be the fitness of star striker Mohamed Salah, who is heading for the Premier League Golden Boot. He will relish the opportunity to take on his former team Roma in the semi-final, and in his current form can fire Liverpool to the final and a meeting with Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. That will be a tough assignment, but the best is yet to come from Klopp’s side, and they have every chance of emulating the Benitez side of 2005 and lifting the Champions League trophy.