Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
Liverpool must be willing to go for European glory as they close in on Champions League semi-finals
Liverpool beat Porto 2-0 in Champions League quarter-final first leg
Last Updated: 10/04/19 9:19am
Liverpool closed in on the last four of the Champions League with their 2-0 quarter-final first-leg win over Porto. Adam Bate was at Anfield to see it and believes Jurgen Klopp would be making a mistake to miss out on European glory in pursuit of the Premier League...
Europe matters to Liverpool. Books have been written about those adventures in Rome, Paris and Istanbul. They are the tales that define the club. The five-time winners of Europe. The last team to be permanently awarded the trophy. The only English club permitted to wear the multiple-winners' badge on their shirts in European competition.
History encourages Liverpool to chase glory in the Champions League, but it's the present that demands it. Porto are not the toughest team left in this competition but Liverpool's 2-0 win over them at Anfield on Tuesday evening offered the latest clue that Jurgen Klopp's team just might be. While Manchester City struggled at Tottenham, Liverpool took control.
As it stands, they are the team most certain of a place in Europe's final four. Win that semi-final tie and Liverpool will have reached a third European final in four seasons and be well placed to win one for the first time in 14 years. The problem is that a wait of more than double that is overshadowing everything that Liverpool do right now.
That longing to win the Premier League is palpable. There is a 29-year-wait to end. It's about catching City but it's also about catching United. The title has become an obsession for Liverpool but when it comes to Europe it's true love. The sight and sound of the Kop roaring before kick-off made a mockery of the notion that Klopp could chuck this competition away.
The banner passed around the lower tier of the Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand proclaims Liverpool's 18 title wins but it's the five golden European Cups that underscore the club's history. European royalty according to the flag in the Kop. We've conquered all of Europe and we're never gonna stop? A Premier League title race shouldn't change that.
The Liverpool manager has heard all the talk. The suggestion that a two-legged semi-final might be an inconvenience for his players with so little margin for error in their remaining five Premier League matches. He has heard the talk and he has quite rightly rejected it.
"Now it is closer to the end of the season and it is allowed to go out of the Champions League without even trying to go through? That's really mad."
There were some changes that might have been avoided had everything been on the line against Porto. Dejan Lovren was given a run-out in defence, while Naby Keita earned a show of support following his first Liverpool goal in the win at Southampton. Klopp took the opportunity to give Gini Wijnaldum the rest that has looked much needed for a while.
But the big players were all here and Liverpool will take some beating when they are on the pitch. Virgil van Dijk snuffed out the danger without breaking sweat or stride. Mohamed Salah didn't add to the goal that he scored on Friday but looks full of confidence once more. Roberto Firmino is hinting that he could find his best form at just the right time.
If there's a frustration for Klopp, it's that a performance that had promised complete domination when going two up inside the first half an hour, did not culminate in the result that would have allowed him some room for manoeuvre in Porto next week. Thanks to Alisson, the visitors did not get an away goal, but they did leave Anfield with hope intact.
"These two legs are like a normal game," said Klopp afterwards. "The first half is played and now we have a bit longer than 15 minutes to prepare for the second half. There is still a lot to do and we know that. The atmosphere in Porto will be really tough for us but this is a result we wanted before the game, now we have it and we have to work with it."
The key players will have to go again when Liverpool host Chelsea on Sunday and most of them will now be pressed into action in Porto too. But any suggestion that Klopp should pick and choose is problematic. "Being not lively at home isn't possible at Anfield," he says of his side's approach in front of their own fans and the same goes for this European bid.
Liverpool have to go for this. Who knows when they will have a better chance to win the Premier League but who knows when they will have a better chance to win the Champions League as well? Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain are out, while City's progress now looks uncertain. Liverpool should not shy away from the opportunity that awaits them.
Even from a pragmatic point of view, pursuing this trophy makes sense. This is a team that is capable of winning the Premier League. But perhaps just as pertinently, this is a team that is capable of picking up 97 points and not winning the Premier League. Despite their best efforts, that piece of silverware is out of Liverpool's hands. The Champions League is not.
"We love the competition, that's how it is," said Klopp on the eve of this game. He may have to prove how much in the coming weeks. A maximum of nine matches await Liverpool this season and they are fraught with difficulty but rich in possibility. The biggest clubs tend to be the greediest and this Liverpool team are just too good not to go for it all.