2015/16 was the season that Jurgen Klopp took over Liverpool and began the long process of getting the Merseyside team back to where they belong, at the top of English and European football. Despite the poor start to the season that saw the departure of Brendan Rodgers, Klopp came in and was able to immediately turn around the club’s fortunes; guiding Liverpool to two cup finals in his first season.
Whilst neither final ended in silverware, it was a promising start on a long journey back to the top and just two years later Jurgen Klopp and his men have swapped a Europa League final for a Champions League final against the mighty Real Madrid. With that in mind, let’s see how far Liverpool have progressed in only two seasons.
The campaign that ended in a league cup and Europa league final were a stark contrast to the form Liverpool had shown in the Premier League. In a season where Leicester shocked the world Liverpool could only muster up a measly 8th placed finish behind Southampton and West Ham; the Reds only managed to win 16 games, drawing 12 and losing 10. What is more unlike Liverpool is that they only scored 63 goals and conceded 50 which meant the team ended on a goal difference of just 13 and a total point haul of 60.
Compare that to Liverpool’s league run this season, Liverpool only lost five times over the course of the season; drawing 12 times (again) and winning 21. The biggest difference is that Liverpool have secured Champions League football in successive seasons for the first time since Benitez left the club, beating Chelsea and Arsenal to that elusive 4th place whilst also making the Champions League final. Whilst the domestic cup runs have been less impressive, I’m sure all Liverpool fans are happy to forgive the poor showing in this year’s League and FA cup due to the impressive European run.
Weirdly enough, despite the drop in quality from Champions League to Europa League; Liverpool had the type of route to the 2016 final that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Champions League. Augsburg presented an easy tie for the round of 32, but from them on Liverpool had to face Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villareal to get to Basel to face Sevilla who were looking to win their third straight Europa League.
This season the two teams from the 2016 final would face off in the group stages of the Champions League, Liverpool came out on top of the group thanks to convincing wins against Maribor and Spartak Moscow and were drawn against the Portuguese champions in the round of 16. A 5-0 thrashing away to Porto all but ended the tie and Liverpool found themselves in a Champions League Quarter-Final against the champions of England Manchester City. Despite the sides dominance in the league Liverpool made light work of Pep Guardiola’s side and a 5-1 aggregate win set them up against Roma in the semi-final.
It would be the Rome side that ran Liverpool the closest, despite ever really feeling like Roma could turn the tie around a 7-6 aggregate score to Liverpool have them looking forward to a trip to Kiev. Standing in the way of a sixth European Cup for Liverpool is the most difficult of footballing opponents; just like Sevilla, Real Madrid face Liverpool looking to win their third consecutive Champions League, a feat that no other side has achieved.
Despite us not knowing the result of the final, getting to the final of the Champions League is a better achievement than the Europa League final and it’s a sign of how much the side has progressed under Jurgen Klopp.
At the time of the Europa League final Jurgen Klopp had only had the January transfer window to make any signings for Liverpool; we all know of Klopp’s distaste for January signings to the squad he used was full of players he hadn’t signed.
Europa League Final Starting XI
Probable Champions League Final Starting XI
Only four of the starting XI from Liverpool’s probable Champions League final XI were not signed by Jurgen Klopp, it took him a season and a half but Loris Karius has well and truly taken over as the number 1 at Liverpool and deservedly so, since he has come in permanently from January; the German goalkeeper has kept 11 clean sheets in 23 games and combined with the arrival of Van Dijk; has helped solve Liverpool’s defensive issues.
Injuries to Nathaniel Clyne have seen the emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold, having traded the right back spot with Joe Gomez for the first half of the season; the young scouser well and truly cemented his place in the starting XI during the team’s champions league run.
As mentioned, the arrival of Virgil Van Dijk has gone a long way to helping solve Liverpool’s defensive issues; Dejan Lovren is looking likely to start in both finals but Van Dijk makes a more formidable and World Class defensive partner than the ageing Kolo Toure.
Looking further forward up the pitch you can see the influence Jurgen Klopp has had on the team, a 4-2-3-1 has changed to a 4-3-3 with two technical wingers in Lallana and Coutinho replaced in the pacey goal-scoring wingers in Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Firmino has been moved from the number 10 to become one of the most complete forwards in the Premier League and one player has been moved back into the midfield to provide more numbers in the middle of the park.
Gini Wijnaldum will be the only Klopp signing of that midfield three, the Dutch midfielder has had a topsy turvy season but things are definitely looking up as he scored his first away goal in Rome; a goal that eventually got Liverpool through to the Champions League final. The other two midfielders to start have been revitalised, Milner started in midfield in 2016 but wasn’t brilliant and for the 2016/17 season he was asked to fill in at left back. With the signing of Andy Robertson it seemed that Milner’s career would start to wind down but the big Ribena drinking bastard has got a whole new lease of life; the same can be said for captain Jordan Henderson. The captain has come under all sorts of stick since the departure of Gerrard (rightly so at times) but Henderson has truly come into his own during this Champions League campaign; despite not being from Liverpool he has a real connection to the fans and just gets what it means for everyone associated to Liverpool Football Club.
The step up in competition that now stands in the way of Liverpool is testament to how far they have come in two short years, Real Madrid are far and away the best team in Europe in recent years and if Liverpool can overcome them they are well and truly deserving of a sixth European title.
Article by Louis Connor
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