Why Liverpool Can Go All The Way In The Champions League This Season

Why Liverpool Can Go All The Way In The Champions League This Season
Mar 2, 2018

Champions League Featured Liverpool

After Liverpool blew away FC Porto 5-0 in the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie at a rain-soaked Dragao stadium, the Reds have effectively booked their place in the quarter-finals of the competition.

Whilst they are likely to face much sterner tests in the subsequent rounds, Liverpool’s commanding win on Portuguese soil should definitely not be overlooked. Before the first leg tie, Porto had not lost on home soil this season and had only conceded a minor 12 goals in 24 games, therefore showing how well Jürgen Klopp’s side did to win the game let alone score demolish the Portuguese champions.

With Liverpool now extremely likely to be competing amongst Europe’s elite again in the next round, here are a few reasons why Liverpool could, against many people’s odds, go all the way to Kyiv at the end of May.

Best Front Three In Europe?

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If there’s any reason why Liverpool could compete against the very best European opponents then it is due to their star-studded attack. The combination of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah have formed a frightening trio going forward so far this season and many a team have been blown away by their near-perfect fluidity; including West Ham at the weekend who were beaten convincingly at Anfield 4-1 with the ‘fab three’, as dubbed by fans, all on the scoresheet.

No attacking trio has scored more goals than Mané, Firmino and Salah so far this season and a large reason for that is the way the three of them interlink. Compared to the more frosty relationship between the likes of Neymar and Edison Cavani, Jürgen Klopp’s attacking armoury all work together harmoniously for the benefit of the team and thus maximise their goalscoring potential.

Utilising pace on the wings is a key component of the German manager’s attacking philosophy and last season when Mané departed for the African Cup of Nations Liverpool suffered a title challenge derailing spell without the width the Senegalese winger provided. Klopp’s answer to that was to buy another winger who provided the electrifying speed that Mané offers and that resulted in the summer signing of Mohamed Salah from AS Roma for £36million. The Egyptian’s signing was initially clouded in doubt, after his previous failed spell in England with the reigning champions Chelsea, but the 25-year-old instantly proved all his doubters wrong and has gone on to score an immense 31 goals in 37 games.

Salah’s form has been so incredible that the quality of his fellow African in the side has gone largely under the radar. Although Mané hasn’t quite hit the same heights as his debut season on Merseyside, his recent form has bettered significantly in recent weeks, including a first ever Champions League hat-trick in that 5-0 drubbing of Porto.

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Whilst Salah and Mané continue to lap up the plaudits, the role of Roberto Firmino in this Liverpool team should not go unnoticed. Previously criticised for his lack of goals as the starting striker, the 2017/18 season has seen the Brazilian outscore the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Alvaro Morata and Alexandre Lacazette so far.

But, it’s not just the goals that Liverpool fans value Firmino for. The 27-year-old’s craft and trickery is what allows Mané and Salah to flourish, as he often drops deep to vacate the space for the Reds’ two blistering wingers to make devastating runs in behind. The former Hoffenheim player has also completed more tackles than defensive midfielders like Nemanja Matic and Granit Xhaka have; something his German manager admires about him the most and makes him one of the first names on the team sheet.

The quality and importance of Firmino is highlighted by Thierry Henry, arguably the greatest striker of the Premier League era, who said that he would have loved to have played alongside Firmino. There aren’t many better compliments than that!

The good news for Liverpool fans is that even with the record-sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, the clubs attacking trio are all hitting form at the right time heading into the business end of the season, and they don’t look like slowing down anytime soon.

 Liverpool’s Style Of Play Suits European Football

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Whilst Liverpool have often been criticised for their failure to break down teams that sit deep and look to frustrate them in recent years, those type of scenarios are unlucky to arise in the latter stages of the Champions League. Whereas the likes of Swansea and West Brom undoubtedly have inferior players at their disposal compared to Liverpool so they have to look to tactically beat them, the biggest and best clubs in Europe such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will feel like they can outplay Klopp’s side.

Therefore with these type of teams committing men forward, it allows Liverpool’s potent attack a lot of space in behind to exploit. In regards to counter-attacking football, Liverpool are arguably the best team in the world at executing it and that was demonstrated perfectly against Porto for Mané’s second goal, where it took the former European champions just a matter of seconds to break from their own box to get in a position to score. Whilst it can be argued that Porto aren’t amongst Europe’s elite side’s, Liverpool also demonstrated their dangerous counter-attacking football against Bayern Munich – albeit in a pre-season tournament friendly.

As an attacking unit, it’s clear that every single one of Liverpool’s front three understand their individual role in the team. The constant interchanging of positions means that Mané, Firmino and Salah are never static and this makes it so hard for the opposition team to pick them up and combined with the frightening pace at which they break makes it almost undefendable.

Ever-improving Defence

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If there’s one Achilles heel that will see Liverpool bow out of the Champions League, it’s undeniably their defence. Having conceded more goals than the league leaders Manchester City, it’s clear to see that the one thing holding Liverpool back from challenging for major honours is the defence.

However, in recent weeks, slowly but surely, the Reds’ are slowly improving at the back. Their defensive upturn has largely been down to the arrival of Virgil Van Dijk, for a world record fee from Southampton, and Loris Karius nailing down the first team goalkeeper spot.

Since Van Dijk arrived at Anfield no player has won more aerial duels in the Premier League, and although the Dutch defender isn’t the whole answer to Liverpool’s problems he is a massive step towards sorting them. The emergence of Karius has also ensured some much-needed consolidation at the back and it has seen the German shot-stopper be in terrific form since his return to the starting eleven.

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Whether the 24-year-old can continue the form that he showed frequently at his former club Mainz remains to be seen and it is widely reported that Klopp has identified the Brazilian number one, currently of Roma, Alisson as his first-choice goalkeeping target if Karius fails to deliver.

Finally, Liverpool’s defensive play has also improved due to their ability to manage games in a professional manner. After failing to hold on to a stoppage-time lead in the frantic encounter against Tottenham last month, Klopp spoke of the need for his side to improve their ability to see games out. Since the former Borussia Dortmund manager spoke those words, Liverpool have been able to come through patches in games where they are under pressure and late on in games they have been able to kill the tempo of the game by effectively keeping possession of the ball. Doing it against the likes of Southampton and West Ham is one thing, but Klopp will be hoping his side can translate that into games on the biggest stage later on in the season.

Liverpool triumphing in Europe for a sixth team seems unlikely, but if any one team in world football can defy the odds then it certainly is the five-time champions of the competition.

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