Most Liverpool fans were left grimacing after the Champions League group stage draw was made back in September. Fate had pitted them against La Liga champions Atlético Madrid, a resurgent AC Milan, and Porto, who reached the quarter-finals of the competitions last season, pushing eventual champions Chelsea extremely close.
But four games into the Champions League campaign, Liverpool have defied the football betting and already secured their progression to the last 16 as group winners. It’s been a remarkable run of form that’s seen Jürgen Klopp’s side rack up four successive victories, guaranteeing top spot with two games still to play.
AC Milan were the first opponents, and on a raucous night at Anfield, Liverpool emerged victorious in an entertaining five-goal thriller. Despite early dominance, the Reds were behind half-time after goals from Ante Rebić and Brahim Díaz overturned an early own goal by Fikayo Tomori.
But Liverpool weren’t to be denied, as second-half strikes from Mohamed Salah – who had earlier missed a penalty – and a speculative effort from Jordan Henderson secured a 3-2 win.
Then came a trip to Porto, where Liverpool have enjoyed great success in recent Champions League campaigns. It was to be another comfortable night, as goals from Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino contributed towards a 5-1 crushing of their Portuguese hosts. It was a perfect away performance in Europe, setting the tone for two crunch fixtures against Atlético Madrid.
Liverpool went to the Wanda Metropolitano in full knowledge of the difficult task that awaited them. Atlético Madrid knocked the Reds out of the Champions League in the 2019-20 season, and Klopp’s men were under no illusions that it would take something special to get a positive result. Luckily, a fast start got them off on the front foot. Quick Goals from Salah and Naby Keita established a 2-0 lead.
But Atlético always looked likely to gain a foothold, and a brace from Antoine Griezmann saw the teams go in level at half-time. But a red card for the Frenchman changed the complexion, and Liverpool eventually found a winner through a Salah penalty.
The Spanish champions then came to Anfield with revenge on their minds, but Liverpool delivered a sensational performance to stifle them.
Amidst a fervent atmosphere, two early goals from Diogo Jota and Mané meant the Reds were cruising, and a red card for Felipe before half-time meant the game was a procession. Liverpool saw out a 2-0 victory and their passage to the knockout stage was sealed.
Even with various midfield injury concerns, it’s remarkable how different Liverpool look now compared to last season.
With so many defensive injuries, it was a makeshift team that took to the field throughout the Champions League campaign, and that lack of experience and knowhow came to the fore when Liverpool were knocked out in the quarter-finals by a distinctly average Real Madrid side.
Now though, Klopp’s men are reinvigorated, and look more in line with the team that won the Champions League in the 2018-19 season.
They can afford to relax slightly in their remaining two matches against Porto and AC Milan respectively, but at the same time Klopp will be keen to keep up the momentum in the hopes of delivering further European success.