Three years ago, Liverpool finished behind Leicester, West Ham United and Southampton across a 38 game season. On Wednesday night they play away to Barcelona in a Champions League semi-final in a game that involves arguably two of the best three teams on the planet.
To take a silver lining in desperation from the most frustrating of all the clouds, perhaps City’s refusal to drop points is a good thing, as far as appreciating Wednesday night goes.
What was once an expectation of a league title has become a still possible, yet fading hope. And so with every Aguero or Sterling winner on the domestic front, this European run has increased in significance.
That’s important, it should be significant, it should mean everything. On Wednesday, two of the best sides in the world go to head to head in the biggest club stadium there is. Never mind your ‘best on the continent’ or ‘European giants’, let’s not pretend there’s teams kicking about in South America or the Far East who are better than these lads.
Liverpool, a team with no weaknesses, against Barcelona, a side with surely the greatest player to have graced the earth. Also, the ten other lads who’ll line out for them won’t be any mugs either. They’ll include a man who is arguably the most skilled footballer to have ever worn a Liverpool shirt.
Over the last fifteen years, you could probably count on one hand the amount of times a team has gone to the Camp Nou with less fear than Liverpool will have tomorrow night.
The concept of them being labelled as frauds or bottlers when they will likely finish on 97 points becomes more ludicrous when you realise how little regard Klopp’s side have for accepted limits, pre-conceived narratives and more than anything, fear.
The stumbles and slips of those chasing a top-four spot in recent weeks should highlight how Liverpool are mentally stronger than at least 95% of teams playing at this level.
Sure, having the best centre-half in the world and a front three as good as any other helps. However, on countless occasions this season, this side could’ve bought in to the made-up self-fulfiling prophecies of failure and crumbled under the pressure.
Burnley away, Everton at home, the trip to Craven Cottage, going to Stamford Bridge in September and so on. There were plenty of chances for Liverpool to throw it away. City’s ridiculous depth and resources gave Klopp the perfect excuse to fall back out of contention as Tottenham have.
But they don’t care about that option, they don’t care about the past or media hype and they don’t conform to the widely accepted, unofficial rules of football.
They didn’t go to the Allianz Arena and try to get a score draw. They didn’t stop for a second to think that 8 wins in 8 games during December might be out of the question. In the derby in December they didn’t accept that they had had more of their fair share of good fortune down the years versus Everton and that the blues were due a result. Each time they pushed the boundaries of what was seen as the done thing.
They care more than anything about bringing success back to this club. The reason why they are in a good position to do just that is because that’s all they care about.
It’s maybe Jurgen Klopp’s most underrated skill as a manager. The ability to fuck off the accepted narratives. The narrative that only sides bank-rolled by oligarchs and sheikhs can hit 95 points. The narrative that his sides can’t clear the final hurdle when it matters. The narrative that football teams just don’t win ten on the bounce even if they may be favourites for all ten. He eliminates all fear and doubt whilst keeping his team pragmatic and sensible on the pitch.
It is this attitude that means instead of Paris Saint Germain, Real Madrid and Manchester City, Barcelona are joined by Ajax, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in the semis. Ajax didn’t bother reading the script going to the Bernabeu 2-1 down. They didn’t travel to Turin thinking ‘it’s been a good ride, but teams like us don’t get through past the quarter-finals’.
Tottenham saw no reason why they couldn’t finish the tie versus Dortmund in one leg, and weren’t concerned about overhauling a team who will likely finish 25 points ahead of them in the league.
It is this attitude that Liverpool showcase as good as anybody. It is this attitude that makes anything possible on Wednesday night. It is this attitude that makes the pedigree and record of Barcelona in Europe close to irrelevant.
Jurgen Klopp doesn’t care. His players don’t care. Liverpool don’t care.