A month ago, I wrote that Liverpool’s Champions League ambitions could prove nothing more than a distraction from the greater cause of securing a top-four finish. Unfortunately, the Reds’ dismal league form since means that the latter, while not impossible, is very much improbable.
So how does Klopp salvage what looks more and more like a calamity of a campaign?
Beating the likes of Bayern and Man City, who are steamrolling their respective domestic leagues, to secure #7 looks even less likely than staging a late remontada in the PL. But if Liverpool can negotiate their way past Real Madrid into the semi-finals, even if the journey ends there, it will be a re-establishment of our European pedigree; It is paramount that we remain on the global footballing map this season, rather than being known as the club that capitulated after ending their title drought.
If the Reds are to have even a glimmer of hope of signing the likes of Mbappe and Haaland, or perhaps more realistically, Ibrahima Konate, we cannot go out with a whimper in the quarter-finals. The top young talents in football are spoilt for choice, and are hardly likely to even consider us if we make no waves in the league or Europe this campaign. The world has to recognise that we are still a force to be reckoned with, even during a supposed off-season.
And it seems Liverpool’s hopes have been given a boost with the news that Madrid’s captain, and Public Enemy #1 on the red half of Merseyside, Sergio Ramos, is likely to miss both legs of the tie. For all of the fanbase’s eagerness to exact revenge on our common anathema, the Spaniard’s quality and leadership abilities are undeniable. His absence will quite indubitably play to Liverpool’s advantage.
This won’t be the same Real Madrid side of 2018 that inflicted so much trauma on us with that 3-1 victory in Kiev. Ronaldo, Bale (our personal tormentor that fateful day) and now Ramos won’t be on the pitch when the two sides meet again this month. While this is of course a Liverpool side without Van Dijk either, it’s as poor a Los Blancos side as the Reds could have hoped to face over the last ten years or so.
There have also been signs from Klopp’s men in the last couple of games that, without filling us with overwhelming confidence, have certainly provided some encouragement. Fabinho has been restored to his customary No.6 role in midfield, and once again looks every bit the colossus we knew him to be. His presence also seems to have revitalised Thiago, who was imperious in the second leg against Leipzig and then put in a positive showing against Wolves.
And of course, there’s the scorching-hot form of Diogo Jota. The former Wolves forward may have been on the sidelines for over two months, but he’s picked up immediately from where he left off in late 2020. His performances have almost been enough to compensate for the horrid seasons Sadio Mane and particularly Roberto Firmino are having.
If Klopp does manage to get one over Zinedine Zidane, a semi-finalist position will allow this campaign to be labelled respectable, though clearly not a success. And right now, as we can look forward to a summer rebuild, I think everyone at the club would take that.