It’s February 21st 2013. Liverpool had failed to qualify for the Champions League, leading to the departure of Kenny Dalglish and arrival of Brendan Rodgers. Liverpool play Zenit St Petersburg in the second leg of the last 32 of the Europa League, trailing 2-0 after the first leg. They know a 3 goal margin is required to progress to the latter stages of a European competition. Despite a Luis Suarez inspired fightback, I sat at Anfield and watched Liverpool’s European hopes fade, even after a 3-1 win on the night.
Let this serve as a reminder of where we were, and where we are now. Off the back of a cruel, and grounding, 3-0 defeat in the semi-finals of the Champions League to one of the best teams the world has ever seen, Barcelona, now is the time for optimism. While there is one home leg still to play (and it’s not over until it’s over), it’s time to look at the bigger picture. And I write this as a fairly pessimistic fan who has believed for a long time we are better than we were.
This time, we really are the real deal. Klopp has taken Rodger’s title challenging team and fired a rocket up their arse. He’s added quality where obviously needed – Alisson and VVD – and instilled a unique team spirit that the team’s success is built upon.
So, where are we now? Back to back Champions League semi-finals – I’d have snapped your arm off for that two years ago. A Champions League final, a Europa League final… While rival fans regularly remind me that we’ve not won any of them, I remind them with a twinkle in my eye that you’ve got to get there to win them. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
We’ve got a genuinely top-class goalkeeper for the first time since Pepe Reina. We’ve got the best centre back in the world in Virgil Van Dijk. We’ve got two of the best English youth prospects in recent years in Joe Gomez and TAA. We’ve got Robbo. We’ve finally got a balance and depth to our midfield. And our strike force is up there with the most feared in world football. Our Egyptian King, who is supposedly having a bad season this year, is a record-breaking Egyptian King.
We’ve also got Jurgen Klopp, who is everything Liverpool fans want from a manager. He’s a manager with pedigree – he orchestrated Mainz’s return to top flight football in Germany after a 41-year absence. He rebuilt a historic Dortmund team and achieved back-to-back Bundesliga titles, plus a German Cup win in the 2011/12 campaign, toppling a much bigger rival in Bayern Munich – sound familiar? He took Dortmund to a Champions League final in 2013. And since joining the Reds he has taken the club from strength to strength.
Gone are squads built on individual talents like Coutinho, Suarez, Gerrard and co. Klopp’s Reds are a proper squad, littered with top talent, capable in all areas. Rafa’s Gerrard, Alonso, Torres and Mascherano squad is the only one that comes close in the Premier League era.
This team is a European powerhouse once more. A genuine threat in all competitions. The Barcelona result may well leave this team trophyless this season, but mark my words, this team is going places.