A Champions League semi-final berth has exceeded all our pre-season expectations. Hasn’t it?
To paraphrase Neil Atkinson, what a time for LFC, what a time to be a Red.
Not only have Liverpool secured a Champions League semi-final place but they did so with a win at The Ethiad. A win with a psychological impact greater than can be imagined both with regard to the rest of the Champions League campaign and next season as a whole.
Consider if Liverpool had got through to face, say, Dortmund, who had, let’s imagine, just beaten Bayern Munich home and away. What would we be thinking about our semi-final opponents?
A marker has undoubtedly been laid down by the Reds.
But let’s go back to pre the second leg against City. Despite the 3-0 advantage there were many among Liverpool’s fan base who feared the worst in the return. My perception in the days leading up to the second leg that getting through the tie narrowly on aggregate was perceived by many to be the best we could hope for. So given those pre-match expectations the come from behind win was huge. There can be no possibility of any lingering doubts around Liverpool’s semi-final credentials.
And all that got me thinking …….
It had occurred to me after recording last month’s Overview show that I need a bit of perspective to fully appreciate how good these Reds are at the moment. We need to take a mental step back to remember where each and every one of us was in terms of expectations for the Reds Champions League Campaign in August.
This time last year I was saying to anyone who would listen (I know it is a pretty select bunch!) that it was about the top 3, not top 4. My concern with finishing fourth was the prospect of not getting through the qualifying round and ending up in the Thursday night dead-end of the Europa League. A fear that was realised when Liverpool were drawn to face Hoffenheim in the final qualifying round of the Champions League.
I’ll be completely honest here, at that time I would have settled for making the group stage (bitten your hand off in all probability) and no more. With hindsight that was probably a case of my “chimp” getting the better of me. More realistically and objectively I would say that if Liverpool made it to the knock out I’d be satisfied.
So I ask you all to ask yourselves that same question. What would have, in your mind, been a reasonable target for the Reds in Europe this season? Would you have been happy with the last 16? Quarter finals? Or would you have wanted better?
At the risk of upsetting some of my readers (Paul Cope will be proud of me!) if you answer that question with “at least the semis” then you are being unrealistic.
Let’s look at this another way. Let’s imagine that the 32 teams that made up the group stage were seeded just like in all the major tennis championships. Where do you think Liverpool should have been in such a ranking?
Clearly not in the top 4 (semi-finalists and beyond)
Probably not the top 8 (to include the losing quarter finalists)
In all likelihood somewhere around 10 – losing in the last 16.
Before you answer consider the teams that were in the competition at that stage and considered good bets to get out of their respective groups. In addition to the other 4 English teams, you had; Barca, Real and Athletico Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munch, Dortmund, Roma, Leipzig and Sevilla.
I can put a pretty strong argument for any 8 of those being seeded above Liverpool before the group games kicked off.
So, while I fully accept that as I write this (before the first leg of the semi-final) we are all dreaming of number 6. Let’s take a few moments to rejoice in what Jürgen’s free-flowing, top-scoring, thrill-inducing Reds have achieved. There is no doubt that getting to the semi-finals is, to use the golfing vernacular, under par. To do so in the style and with the goal difference they have even better.
My expectations are now that Kiev is reasonably achievable. Something I did not even consider until the final whistle at The Ethiad. Remember on August 23rd I would have taken getting to the group stages as a decent outcome. How perceptions change.
Jürgen Klopp and his team deserve huge credit for what they have achieved, whatever happens over the next week.
Let’s get behind these Reds.
Published on The Anfield Wrap on 24th April 2018