Reclaiming a regular place among European royalty is Liverpool’s greatest proof of progress

It is scarcely difficult to find signs of the transformation of Liverpool in the Jurgen Klopp years. There is the gleaming new training ground and Anfield’s giant Main Stand, visible across much of the Liverpool skyline, in which the German is talking. There is the team which Pep Guardiola has described as one of the best in history.

But another eluded even Klopp, the architect of their success. Now Liverpool’s season could be judged in the context of a possible, and unprecedented, quadruple. Rewind a few years and a top-four finish represented a triumphant campaign in itself. And yet when Liverpool booked their spot in next season’s Champions League, Klopp did not realise.

“We did it two games ago after the Manchester United game and it slipped through my fingers, which has never happened before in my life,” he reflected. “Usually we really celebrate that.”

Perhaps the euphoria of demolishing United 4-0 offered an explanation; maybe Liverpool were distracted by their FA Cup semi-final evisceration of Manchester City three days earlier. More prosaically, it was just a case of mathematics, of when the numbers made it impossible for four clubs to finish ahead of them. Champions League qualification had gone down to the last day three times in Klopp’s tenure. Now it was a formality.

Achievements can get lost in a seminal April of Champions League quarter-finals and now semi-final, of an FA Cup semi-final, of two games against City, plus the victories – one emphatic, one hard-fought – over their two fiercest rivals in United and Everton, but, amid the chaos of six goals, there was a routine feel to the second leg against Benfica. Liverpool had done the heavy lifting by winning in Portugal. At Anfield, they were expected to advance and did, with a weakened team.


If there was an element of anti-climax then, Klopp is now busy fighting the feeling that this is ‘only’ Villarreal. Liverpool’s last game on this stage was the historic 4-0 demolition of Barcelona. Now the Spanish opposition lack their history, their grandeur, their stardust. A third semi-final in five years could feel humdrum to some but, to put it in context, Liverpool had reached three European Cup semi-finals in three decades before Klopp’s appointment, all within four seasons under Rafa Benitez. They may be indelibly associated with great European nights at Anfield but, for much of the preceding 30 years, there were not many.

“It is absolutely special to be part of the semi-final,” Klopp added. “It’s crazy, really. It is a massive game. So many coaches out there work their socks off their whole life and have no chance to be close to a semi-final and we are there.”

The dugouts in the semi-finals feature two of those whose socks could have been worn out in altogether less glamorous surroundings. Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti were groomed for greatness, European Cup-winning midfielders and the proteges of Johan Cruyff and Arrigo Sacchi respectively. Klopp and Unai Emery were second-division players in their home countries. Neither was an exceptional footballer. “Unai is a world-class coach,” said Klopp. So is he.

Viewed with hindsight, there can be an inevitability to everything but Virgil van Dijk argued recently that Liverpool shouldn’t take their modern-day golden age for granted.

Jordan Henderson knows that better than most: a year into his Liverpool career, he was the misfit Brendan Rodgers wanted to offload to Fulham. Even approaching the eighth anniversary of his arrival from Sunderland and having succeeded Steven Gerrard as captain, he still only had one trophy – the 2012 League Cup, won on penalties, against Cardiff – to his name. Then he lifted the 2019 Champions League. Soon he could join Emlyn Hughes in the ranks of Liverpool’s double European Cup-winning captains.

He traces their revival back to Klopp’s appointment. “I felt as though there was something special as soon as the manager came in, to be honest,” said the midfielder. “I think everybody did. The whole lift he gave the whole club, the team, everybody.”

Liverpool had lost their way at the end of Rodgers’ reign. Now they have only lost three times in 54 matches this season, and a second-leg defeat to Inter Milan still came in an aggregate win.


Klopp still talks the language of a man who thinks sweat and toil are the prerequisites of progress. “Villarreal are strong and we are strong but there will be moments where we suffer but we can make them suffer,” he said. “I don’t know which result we will get but whatever we will work with it because it means everything to reach the Champions League final.”

And that is an achievement he certainly would notice.

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

{{#verifyErrors}} {{message}} {{/verifyErrors}} {{^verifyErrors}} {{message}} {{/verifyErrors}}

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Source: Read Full Article