After Liverpool’s night of disappointment in Kiev at the end of the 2017/18 season, it was hard to see them bouncing back so quickly. They had just lost 3-1 to Real Madrid in the Champions League final, a match in which goalkeeper Loris Karius had committed two blunders and talismanic forward Mohamed Salah had been forced off with a shoulder injury early in the game.
It was a night where everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, but that agony would only serve to add to the ecstasy Jurgen Klopp’s men would feel twelve months later as Jordan Henderson lifted the Champions League trophy aloft, having defeated Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in Madrid. The triumph was a testament to the idea of using past hurt as a key motivating factor, and the jubilant scenes on Merseyside as Liverpool’s players paraded through the city were images of unbridled joy.
As another Champions League campaign rolls around once again, it will be interesting to see how Liverpool fare now that Klopp has finally tasted silverware as Anfield boss. Will there be something of a lull in the Reds’ European performances, or will last year’s success only inspire this squad to seek further glory, to break records and surpass the feats of last season, where their Champions League victory was complemented by a remarkable 97-point Premier League campaign?
The current Champions League winner odds place Liverpool among the favourites to lift the famous old trophy, but to make it to three finals in a row would be a stunning achievement for the Reds given the competitive nature of Europe’s premier club competition.
That said, Real Madrid won the tournament three years running before last season, so to say it cannot be done in the modern game would be remiss. Liverpool have a special relationship with the Champions League just like Real Madrid, and it seems that this European pedigree plays a part on those big nights in the latter stages of the competition.
On that special night in April against Barcelona at Anfield, you could almost feel the history of the club swelling up around the famous stadium, the memories of past glory summoned forth by the roar of the crowd to the extent that Barcelona could do nothing but crumble.
The ‘big European night at Anfield’ has become something of a cliché, but that is only because few grounds have witnessed the drama that Anfield has, and few grounds can generate the same atmosphere. If Liverpool are to continue their Champions League success of the last couple of seasons in this campaign, they must continue to harness the power of their support.
Some might point to Liverpool’s lack of big-name acquisitions in the summer transfer window as a reason why they might get left behind in Europe this season. Jurgen Klopp refused to splash the cash over the summer months, content with the quality of his squad, eager to build on the unity developed through last year’s achievements. Only time will tell us if this was the right decision.
Perhaps more important for Liverpool was retaining their key players, keeping the core of that team together to go again. It possibly would have been foolish to bring in another attacker and disturb the front three that has terrorised defences domestically and in Europe. In Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, Liverpool have a winning combination, three players who perfectly complement each other’s games, who create and provide for one another, and whose unpredictability is their greatest asset.
Liverpool’s full-backs too could stake a claim to be Europe’s finest at the moment. The pin-point accuracy of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s deliveries have rightly earned the young Englishman many plaudits, while Andy Robertson’s tenacious athleticism means he is a constant threat on the left side of the pitch. The only question is whether those two can maintain such high levels of performance across another lengthy campaign.
The group stage draw has been to kind Liverpool, placing them in Group E with Napoli, Red Bull Salzburg and Genk. It’s easy to forget that the Reds barely made it out of their group last season, edging through after beating Napoli on the final matchday. This group should see progress secured more comfortably, but complacency must be avoided at all costs.
The reality is that nothing lasts forever, but Jurgen Klopp will be hopeful that the winning machine he has created can continue rumbling on, grinding down opponents through their breathless attacking and ice-cool defensive nous. This year’s Champions League final returns to the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul, the scene of Liverpool’s most famous night in European history. It would be fitting if the Reds were to walk out there again next May, 15 years on from that joyful night, to fully assert themselves as the dominant force in European football once more.