It’s been far too long now since the floodlights at Anfield shone on an enormous European encounter for Liverpool, and while there is a vital clash with Porto in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 in Portugal to come first, the return leg in Merseyside now just under a month away.
There are of course a couple of hugely important league ties sandwiched in between the crucial test with Porto, with two home encounters with West Ham and Newcastle of equal importance to Jurgen Klopp’s side, while the Reds then face a gruelling trip to Manchester United the following week. The Champions League clash will, however, be on the forefront of the minds of all involved with Liverpool Football Club, be it fans, players or coaches, mainly because of their painful absence from the competition in recent seasons.
While the grudge match with Porto offers up a potentially daunting task, the Reds certainly have reasons to be cheerful as they head off on another European adventure, particularly due to their fine form in the group stages of the competition earlier this season.
With somewhat of a straightforward group for Liverpool compared to other top teams in the competition, the stats are understandably in favour of the Reds, with Klopp’s men leading the line for total attempts. Liverpool’s 118 keeps them ahead of European powerhouses Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the shot count, while a total of 23 goals puts them two behind leaders PSG in the tally for this season’s competition.
Roberto Firmino finds himself among some fine company in the goal scoring charts, joint second on six goals with the likes of superstars in Neymar and Edinson Cavani, Harry Kane and Wissam Ben Yedder, who all sit three goals off the formidable Cristiano Ronaldo. Not only are the Reds firing on all cylinders on the goals front, but James Milner sits atop the assists list with five so far in the competition, one ahead of PSG’s Neymar and two ahead of team-mate Firmino. Alberto Moreno and Sadio Mane have three and two assists respectively, while the latter has found the net three times, proving just how clinical the Reds have been in front of goal in Europe this season.
Their fine form in the Champions League certainly didn’t kick off until their thumping 7-0 at Maribor in game week three, having picked up just two points from two draws in their opening games against Sevilla and Spartak Moscow. Such form was however massively assisted by the now departed Philippe Coutinho, who managed five goals and two assists in the five group games he played. The Reds seemingly haven’t fully recovered from the loss of their former superstar, who more often than not was their match-winner, and so any remaining games for the Reds in Europe must be won without the help of their little magician, who has indeed cup-tied himself for the competition following his move to one of the favourites to take home the title.
European glory will only be secured if the Reds can compete with the best, and with another rollercoaster Premier League season underway at Anfield – where Liverpool have produced some stunning displays along with some miserable performances – it may perhaps be best if Klopp focuses on their Champions League form. To be the best, Liverpool will have to beat the best, and while Porto certainly don’t represent the best in terms of quality in the competition, they will certainly be no pushovers. If the Reds can overcome this difficult challenge over two legs, where an away goal may be all that matters after one battle with the side from Portugal, several glamorous opponents will be waiting further down the line as Liverpool aim to take Europe by storm, just as they did 13 years ago on that famous night in Istanbul.