LIVERPOOL FC: SEASON IN REVIEW

'This is where Liverpool belong'

Back in the UEFA Champions League after a three-year absence, Jürgen Klopp’s side
developed a thrilling, irresistible momentum on their journey to the club’s eighth final

 

Of all the banners brandished on the Kop this season, perhaps one has summed it up best: “Liverpool FC, European royalty.” The Anfield side boast the regal grandeur of five continental titles, but their pursuit of a sixth has been more swashbuckling fairy tale than stilted palace drama – a gripping story of forgotten pretenders proving their worth.

Liverpool needed a play-off to reach the UEFA Champions League, the aristocrats entering via the service door, but they have more than proved they belong during a rambunctious run to the final. The Reds have served up a greatest-hits collection of Jürgen Klopp’s favoured ‘heavy metal’ football, scoring 46 goals from qualifying onwards to break the record for goals in a single UEFA Champions League campaign.

Even in their play-off against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, they hit six. Teenage defender Trent Alexander-Arnold struck on his European debut with a superb free-kick in a 2-1 first-leg away win. In the second leg, summer signing Mohamed Salah offered his own portent with his second goal for the club in a 4-2 home victory as the Merseysiders sealed their group stage return after a three-year exile. “It’s where Liverpool belong,” said manager Klopp, warming his side up for a campaign of energetic counter-pressing, tireless running and attacking flair.

The Reds were back but remained a work in progress. Klopp’s men needed three games to post their first win – but did it with seven unanswered goals against NK Maribor. It was their record European away win, but Klopp delivered a prescient warning: “It sounds strange after our result, but if you’re not completely focused you can come unstuck.”

Trent Alexander-Arnold (left) roars to the crowd after Liverpool’s second goal against Manchester City at Anfield 

Sevilla FC proved as much on a frenetic November night. Liverpool raced into a 3-0 lead in Andalusia, only to be pegged back to 3-3 – an eerie echo of the club’s ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ in the 2005 final. The consequences were less severe than for AC Milan, with Liverpool topping Group E thanks to another 7-0 success – this time against FC Spartak Moskva – but their defensive frailty was a concern.

 

So too was the January departure of Philippe Coutinho to FC Barcelona. The Brazilian had scored a hat-trick against Spartak and many wondered how Liverpool would fare without their playmaker. The answer was not long in coming. With Sadio Mané as the third member of a devastating front line, the Reds swept FC Porto aside 5-0 in their round of 16 opener, Mané notching a treble along with goals for fellow forwards Salah and Roberto Firmino.

That all three had found the net was symbolic of their response to the extra responsibility that they did not so much assume as embrace. Just as notable was the visitors’ clean sheet – January signing Virgil van Dijk marshalling the defence superbly to suggest his arrival might be more significant than Coutinho’s exit. Another clean sheet at Anfield then set up a mouth-watering quarter-final tie with Manchester City FC, and the famous old ground seethed with noise as the Premier League leaders were blown away by a blistering start. “If you’re the away team and the crowd gets going like that, it’s horrible,” said Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the former Arsenal FC midfielder, who fired a thunderous second goal in the 3-0 victory. 

It helps too, of course, to have a player as consistently decisive as Salah, and the Egyptian struck again in the 2-1 second-leg win before kicking off the semi-finals with a double and two assists against his old club AS Roma in a stunning 5-2 first-leg win. “He’s the best player on the planet right now,” enthused former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, whose old England team-mate James Milner – rejuvenated by Klopp – served up a record ninth assist of the campaign.

Roma had clawed back a 4-1 deficit to stun Barcelona in the last eight, but this time there was no salvation, as Liverpool held on to win 7-6 on aggregate. A first UEFA Champions League final in 11 years awaits Liverpool, the restored aristocrats who, with their ‘Egyptian king’, will now seek to dethrone the most regal club of all. 

PLAY-OFF

Hoffenheim 1-2 Liverpool

Liverpool 4-2 Hoffenheim

Liverpool win 6-3 on aggregate

GROUP E

Liverpool 2-2 Sevilla

Spartak Moskva 1-1 Liverpool

Maribor 0-7 Liverpool

Liverpool 3-0 Maribor

Sevilla 3-3 Liverpool

Liverpool 1-0 Spartak Moskva

ROUND OF 16

Porto 0-5 Liverpool

Liverpool 0-0 Porto

Liverpool win 5-0 on aggregate

QUARTER FINALS

Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City

Manchester City 1-2 Liverpool

Liverpool win 5-1 on aggregate

SEMI-FINALS

Liverpool 5-2 Roma

Roma 4-2 Liverpool

Liverpool win 7-6 on aggregate

'I always want more'

Roberto Firmino says this is his best ever season, but the forward is not satisfied yet

HOLDING ROLE

I started out as a holding midfielder at youth level. That’s had a big influence, as have my personality and my experiences growing up. I always modelled myself on Ronaldinho. He was not my only idol, but he was one of my favourites – someone I followed a lot, someone I watched and someone who, with his magic, made us want to imitate him and his football.   

FINAL AMBITIONS

We dreamed big. Sure, we’ve had to win matches, go step by step and put in a lot of work to reach the final. Now it will be a great final. I’ve never played against Madrid but I’ve watched their games and they’re very competitive. However, this is a one-off game, a one-off 

moment. In Liverpool, they’ll be up against a team and a club with a great pedigree. We’re going to fight until the end.

GOAL-HUNGRY

It’s my first season in the Champions League and I’m one of the leading scorers, alongside Cristiano and Salah. I’m very happy with my performances and the entire team’s performance. And I hope to keep that going into the final. This year is my best year as a professional footballer. I’m still a little bit restless, as I always want more.  

INSPIRATION

We’ve learned a great deal with coach Klopp. He arrived and he’s taken us all under his wing. We’re a very tight-knit group. In our games, you can see how much he’s changed our team. We’ve improved since his arrival. Our philosophy is to always work hard because our job out on the field doesn’t come down to luck; it’s about very hard work on and off the pitch and continuing to improve.

ATTACKING TRIDENT

We’ve been improving in training, day after day, adjusting to one another. We’ve been working well together in games. It’s not only the three of us – the whole team has been doing great work and winning games. 

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