GENUINE dark horses.
That’s the new tag of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool after they romped to an English record away win over Porto and Reds fans everywhere embraced the prospect of their side having a real chance of winning the Champions League for the first time in over a decade.
With the ‘Fab Three’ finding the net with scary consistency, and a counter attacking game style perfectly suited to European competition, there’s a growing sense that Jurgen Klopp’s men are now a serious smoky to take out the title.
But, being Liverpool, there are also a range of historical factors – based largely around their famously leaky defence – which work against the rising case of their title credentials.
After five goals against Porto, the Reds are now the Champions League’s top scorers – almost entirely thanks to attacking trio Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
The departure of Philippe Coutinho has not halted the momentum of the trio, who continue to terrorise defences at home and abroad.
Between them, the triad have scored 19 European goals this season, and added another seven assists. That’s four more strikes than PSG’s attacking combo of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale.
Led by Salah, the potency of Liverpool’s attack is unmatched in Europe this season, and shapes as a big positive in their chase for a return to past glory.
Jurgen Klopp’s team are world football’s number one counter attacking team.
It’s a game style which has proven seriously effective in the Champions League and increasingly so in recent seasons.
A report by UEFA found that ‘20.6 per cent of goals scored in the 2014-15 Champions League came from counter-attacks,’ a stat which makes for pleasant reading for Reds fans.
Liverpool are the Premier League’s leading counter attacking force, having netted eight goals on the counter this season – three better than next best Spurs.
However, the Champions League is a different ball game, and for most teams the prospect of facing Europe’s top sides would shape as daunting.
But for Klopp’s Liverpool, stronger opponents have often proved their favoured match up – as can be seen by their domestic record.
The German manager is unbeaten in his last 13 home Premier League clashes against top six sides, and have lost just twice in eight matches against the Premier League’s elite this season.
Historically, Liverpool have struggled under the weight of expectation against weaker sides, with a tendency to perform in bigger clashes working in their favour as they march on into the Champions League final eight and beyond.
In a similar vein, the Reds have also been held back by a traditionally leaky defence, however the latest European statistics suggest those days may be behind them.
The Reds have played seven matches in this season’s Champions League, disregarding their two qualifying ties against Hoffenheim, and have conceded just six goals.
Additionally, they haven’t conceded in four of their last five European outings – their Sevilla capitulation the only hiccup,
In fact, their romping victory over Porto brought into play a spooky omen which suggests the Reds could be in for a real shot at taking out the title. It was the third time the Merseysiders have won in Portugal – and on the other two occasions, they went on to win the European Cup.
However, they’ll face some serious competition in attempting to replicate that feat this time around, in the form of Real Madrid, Barcelona and even Premier League rivals Manchester City – who made their own statement this week with a 4-0 away victory over Basel.
City are backed as England’s best hopes to take out the title, with Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne spearheading an attack based style which continues to reap benefits – but perhaps the Reds are better placed for a title tilt?
While Guardiola’s men registered a resounding win over Basel, netting four goals in the process, the Swiss side are by no means a representation of the standard of competition the Citizens can expect to face from here on in Europe.
Whereas Liverpool’s 5-0 trouncing of a Porto side who were unbeaten in 24 matches in all competitions, shapes as a better indicator of a side ready to take on higher quality opposition.
Also considering Klopp’s side beat City 4-3 in their last league meeting, it stands to reason that the Reds should actually be backed as England’s top hope despite betting markets suggesting the league leaders are actually outright favourites to win the tournament.
However, while there’s a mounting case for Klopp’s sides rising favouritism, there are also a range of reasons which suggest they don’t have what it takes to go all the way.
Despite splashing out £75m (AU$132m) on Virgil van Dijk, there are still question marks over the consistency of the Reds’ back four – as well as their first choice stopper Loris Karius.
Further up the park, Reds legend Steven Gerrard suggests they’re also still short a big defensive midfield presence.
“But I think Liverpool will benefit from a monster centre-midfielder. A (Victor) Wanyama type player who will sit in there and be disciplined and he would give more protection to the back four,” Gerrard said on BT Sports.
Add into the mix a clear lack of Champions League experience and there is a growing sense that it might not be Liverpool’s year just yet.
The Reds haven’t appeared in the final eight of the competition since 2008-09, and it’s tough to see them stringing together the performances to take out the tournament on their first major return to Europe’s elite.
It’s a massive milestone in the club’s return to their past glories, and they’re a legitimate dark horse to take out the title with their place all but assured in the final eight – but all things considered, its definitely too early to suggest they’ll go all the way.