To the surprise of nobody, Liverpool advanced to the final four of the UEFA Champions League after dismantling overmatched Porto, 6-1 over two games, including Wednesday 4-1 blitz away from Anfield.
The Reds’ path back to the semis for a second consecutive year felt inevitable the moment they drew the weakest of the quarterfinalists, and it became even more of a forgone conclusion once the Reds took a commanding lead in the opening leg of the series last week.
From this point forward, though, luck is no longer on Liverpool’s side. Not only must Jurgen Klopp’s team face off against Lionel Messi-led Barcelona in a home-and-home that begins later this month, progressing to this late stage of the top club competition against the prohibitive might just spread the Reds too thin.
Liverpool would love to add a sixth European title, no doubt They’re already the most successful English club in the competition’s history, and they might feel like they have some unfinished business to handle after dropping last year’s finale to Real Madrid in a match where just about everything that could go wrong did.
Still, it’s no secret that the Premier League title is the trophy the Reds and their fans want the most. It’s been 30 years since Liverpool last won a domestic title. The Premier League wasn’t even called that back then. Ending that drought has become an obsession for obvious reasons. Over the last three decades, the club’s supporters have watched as a historic rival, Manchester United, overtook them in the silverware department. Nouveau riche Chelsea and Manchester City went from also-rans to perennial contenders; they’ve combined for nine league wins since 2004.
This reality leaves Reds manager Jurgen Klopp with decisions to make. While some might argue that fixture congestion is the price that the biggest clubs have to pay to satisfy their ambitions, Liverpool, for all its glorious but mostly ancient history, has only just regained its status among the global elite in the years since Klopp arrived from Borussia Dortmund in 2015.
They still can’t match the financial muscle of United, City, or Chelsea, not to mention Barca or Madrid. These financial limitations turned the club into a tournament team in the decade before Klopp arrived. They won their last Champions League crown in 2005 and lost in the final two years later. Two runner-up finishes was the best they could muster in the Prem over the same span.
So as much as winning the double is technically possible, few truly believe that these Reds, for all their ability and considerable depth, are good enough to knock off Barcelona and end the domestic drought. Surely upsetting Barca will require an all-feet-on-deck approach. That in turn would force Klopp to rotate his lineups over the final four league matches, all of which Liverpool could win and still not take the title given Manchester City’s one game in hand. Even worse, richer, deeper City will be well rested now that they’re out of the Champions League following Wednesday’s epic against Tottenham.
The league schedule for Liverpool is kind. With games against bottom feeders Cardiff City and Huddersfield and beatable foes in Newcastle and Wolves, the Reds could probably run the table by sprinkling reserves into the lineup. There’s no guarantees, though.
The second leg against Porto marked the Reds 46th contest this season. Injuries to key players have already taken their toll. Devoting anything less than their best to the league effort is bad juju. This particular year, reaching the semifinals of the planet’s best club competition might have to be good enough.
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