You can’t help but feel that Tuesday night’s tie versus Bayern Munich might’ve ended differently had it been played last season.
It wasn’t so much a case of Liverpool lacking their old gung-ho endeavor, but rather the unnecessary security of knowing there’ll be another chance for the Reds to lift silverware later this campaign.
As Liverpool headed south to batter the best Portugal had to offer this time last year, their only hope of a trophy stood in the form of the Champions League. Out of both cups and 18 points behind Manchester City in the league, Europe was Klopp’s only opportunity to show concrete progress from the previous season.
Against Munich, the absence of that pressure seemed to blunt Liverpool’s tools and take away that ferocious hunger which fired the team to Kyiv in 2018.
Perhaps they could’ve done with Bayern being bigger pricks as well. From the programme cover, which highlighted both club’s European heritage and history, to the general decency and soundness of German football clubs and their fans.
For those inside the stadium it must have been hard to create a cauldron of hatred, the type that would’ve been present had Real Madrid or PSG come to town.
The distraction of the title race took away from what could’ve been a classic European Cup affair. Both sides looked very seven out of ten, but never threatened to make it an eight or a nine.
It is starting to look like this year isn’t going to be looked back on as one of the club’s famous European campaigns. Three losses in the group stage and Tuesday’s clash, which even in its most exciting moments, simmered rather than boiled.
It doesn’t feel like Liverpool are on the road to something special in Europe this time around, nor does the team’s more efficient and sustainable style feel that suited towards two-legged ties.
That’s okay though, as in case you haven’t heard, Liverpool might be twelve weeks away from winning the Football League, again.
I won’t waste any more cyber ink by telling you how huge United away is on Sunday.
More than anything it feels like a test. Recent results mean a draw will be two points dropped as opposed to one gained. Wins against Leicester and West Ham would leave Liverpool in a perfect position to just shake hands with United, share the points and move on, still a healthy distance ahead of City.
But now, if the gap at the top is only one point by Sunday evening, it will feel like another round to Guardiola’s team in this nine-month heavyweight clash which shows no signs of slowing down.
Given that Liverpool’s lead was once seven, there‘ll surely be players and fans who’ll feel like it’s all starting to fall away from them, with Everton and Spurs both to play in March.
Add that to the pain of giving up those crucial points against United of all sides, and for only the second time in recent memory a point in Greater Manchester doesn’t feel satisfactory.
The first of course was in 13/14. That day, Liverpool turned up and weren’t overawed by Old Trafford. They didn’t show up with an inferiority complex and they didn’t look like a side who knew they were destined to come up short because of previous defeats away to Ferguson’s side.
ON THIS DAY: In 2014, Liverpool beat Man Utd 3-0 at Old Trafford, with Steven Gerrard scoring twice from the spot.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 16, 2018
They went in with the belief that United’s worst team in decades had no right to get a goal, yet alone a result against Brendan Rodgers’ mad gang of Reds.
Liverpool have to go in with the same attitude. They can’t view Solskjaer’s side as equals.
Even though United no longer have a manager who’s calling his own players pricks and are playing some of the best football of the post-Ferguson era, Liverpool are still further ahead of the Red Devils then they were before the three-nil of March 2014.
Last season was the quintessential Manchester United v Liverpool game at Old Trafford. Liverpool went down the M62, played some decent football but looked like they were uncomfortable under the animosity of United’s crowd.
Old Trafford doesn’t boast the best atmosphere in the Premier League, but they really know how to affect the game when Liverpool come to town. They don’t jeer or boo, they just laugh at you.
Liverpool matched Mourinho’s team for most of the match but United always looked the likelier to score. And they did, twice.
While a fine De Gea fingertip or the frame of the woodwork always seems to save the home side, a moment of brilliance will inevitably find the net for them at the other end.
Think about Berbatov’s overhead kick, Martial’s marauding run and Ferdinand blamming it past Reina.
— Football Remind (@FootballRemind) November 1, 2018
Liverpool suffered in midweek from security, from a lack of pressure on their shoulders. They suffered from having a back-up option.
On Sunday that pressure will be there, and stronger than it has been at any stage this season. But there’ll be no back-up option.
Lose or draw and the Reds can have few complaints over the disappearance of a seven-point gap
If Liverpool really are the best team in the country, they should be able to get a win at Old Trafford, no matter how buoyant or motivated the home side are.
They have to go there with audacity, arrogance and belief. They have to go there and behave like champions.