Road to the Champions League Final: Liverpool

Klopp Liverpool Champions League

Well, here we are again.

Just four years ago, Real Madrid faced Liverpool in the Champions League final. That match had it all: drama, injuries, bicycle kicks, goalkeeping errors, and more. Of course, Real Madrid won 3-1, in a match famous for a poor performance from Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius.

Earlier this week, Liverpool star Mohamed Salah said that he wanted to face the Spanish side in the final. He has his wish, and Salah is undoubtedly eyeing revenge against the team that injured him in the last final. However, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for either team. Let’s take a look at how both teams got here, starting with Liverpool.

Liverpool

Liverpool sneaked into the Champions League after finishing third in the Premier League last season, with the club at one point struggling for a European spot. They surprisingly opted not to increase the squad’s depth much, making just one signing, Ibrahima Konaté. Of course, in the winter, they signed game changing winger Luis Díaz.

The Merseyside club comfortably breezed through Champions League Group B, winning every match they played. Indeed, they were one of three teams to finish the group stages with a 100 percent winning record. In the knockouts, however, things got more difficult.

Liverpool were drawn up against Inter Milan in the Round of 16, no easy match. Inter Milan finished second in the group stages, but were still Italy’s defending champions. Two late goals in the first leg saw Liverpool win 2-0, and whilst the second leg had some nervy moments, Inter were unable to make it count and lost 2-1 on aggregate.

Liverpool’s Quarter-Final rivals were Benfica, a Portuguese team starting to gain attention because of attacking phenom Darwin Núñez. Núñez impressed but the Reds took a comfortable two-goal lead in the first leg and always looked secure despite struggling in the second leg. Fortunately, they held on for a 6-4 aggregate win.

Liverpool faced Spanish giant-killers Villarreal, who had already beaten Juventus and Bayern Munich on their way to a surprise semifinal appearance. Nonetheless, no one was surprised when Liverpool – you guessed it – won the first leg by two goals.

The second leg was, as you may have guessed, far closer. Villarreal took an instant lead inside of three minutes, and stunningly grabbed another right before the half to tie it on aggregate. Enter winter-signing Luis Díaz, who helped Liverpool equal it up and eventually win, both the match and on aggregate. However, Liverpool did get significant help from a miserable goalkeeping performance from Villarreal keeper Geronimo Rulli, who was at fault for all three goals.

Liverpool have a very talented and well-rounded squad: there’s no obvious weakness. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, and Luis Díaz have directed the attack from the wing. In midfield, they have well-rounded Fabinho and Thiago. Defense is perhaps the team’s strength, with the brilliant Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, and Virgil van Dijk, and Alisson in goal.

They also have a proven manager in Jürgen Klopp. This will be his fourth appearance in the Champions League final, having lost one at Dortmund and won and lost one with Liverpool.

One concern is inconsistency at striker: Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota both have their moments of brilliance, but neither are going to be the proven-goalscorer that the team looks to in its hour of need. The Reds sometimes ease off more than they would like, having conceded four goals in the second half of Champions League knockout games.

This is also a rough match for Klopp. He has just one victory in his last six matches against Madrid. Against Ancelotti, he also struggles, with just three wins from ten matches.

But as Liverpool fans know better than anybody – don’t count out Klopp.

Image Courtesy of Pete, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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