Heading into this season’s Champions League quarter finals, Liverpool played the role of dark horse. They had shown glimpses of their top level quality, most notably in the 5-0 thumping of Porto away from home in the round of 16, but concerns over the defence, over their capacity for seeing out games, persisted. The paradigm has somewhat changed since then, though.
By seeing off Manchester City so comprehensively, Jurgen Klopp’s side have become one of the frontrunners for the competition. This Liverpool side might not boast the pedigree of Bayern Munich or Real Madrid, who will also take their place in the semi finals, but over two legs against Pep Guardiola’s outfit they demonstrated just how far they have come in a short space of time.
Indeed, against Man City Liverpool showed three sides of their game. In the first half of the first leg, they were rampant, scoring three goals in little over 30 minutes. That Liverpool, we have seen at several points over the course of the season. Their attacking credentials have never been in doubt, with Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane forming arguably the most irrepressible forward line in all of European football.
However, in the second half of the first leg they showed that they could also protect a lead, sitting deep and absorbing pressure for a full 45 minutes. This has been an issue for Liverpool at various points this season. Look at how they very nearly allowed a 4-1 lead to slip against Manchester City earlier in the season, eventually stumbling over the line with a 4-3 win. They have undoubtedly made progress in this regard.
Then look at their performance in the second leg at the Etihad Stadium. Liverpool demonstrated a real measure in their display, soaking up pressure before hitting out on the counter attack, securing a 2-1 win. The Reds’ frontline caught the attention, scoring five goals over the two games, but their success was one that had its foundation on their defence.
Of course, the January signing of Virgil Van Dijk has proved to be a real defensive watershed moment for Liverpool. The Dutchman might have been caught out for Man City’s opening goal on Tuesday night, but he has so far lived up to his billing. But Van Dijk hasn’t just given Liverpool more presence at the back, but he has provided a calming presence on those around him.
It’s no coincidence that Loris Karius looks more comfortable as Liverpool’s number one goalkeeper since the signing of Van Dijk. Trent Alexander-Arnold also looks secure playing alongside the Dutchman, with Scottish left back Andy Robertson also currently in the form of his life. Even the maligned Dejan Lovren has found some form.
Bayern Munich and Real Madrid might have experience on their side, but Liverpool would appear to be more adaptable as a team. Going back through the years, the Anfield outfit have always found their best form in Europe. There’s just something about continental competition that brings the best out of Liverpool and it’s no different this season.
How well do you know European Football? Want to challenge the best European Fantasy Managers? Play www.fantasy-champions-league.com now.