Don’t let the name fool you. Despite being called the UEFA Champions ‘League’, the tournament is in fact a cup competition.
Ok, so you knew that already…well, I’m going to assume you knew that anyways. But what you probably need reminding of, is the fact that like in the FA Cup, the Coppa Italia, the Copa del Rey etc., due to the Champions League being a cup competition, sometimes ‘lesser’ teams can go on a bit of a ‘cup run’.
A run during which, despite being considered massive underdogs throughout, a team unexpectedly find a way to progress through the rounds and – in some extraordinary instances – make it all the way to the cup final.
That is seemingly what has happened this year in Europe’s elite club competition, as a team that are a whopping 21 points off the pace in their domestic league, now find themselves in the UEFA Champions League final.
A team that were thumped 4-1 by Tottenham Hotspur at the start of the season, now find themselves in the UEFA Champions League final.
A team that are captained by Jordan Henderson (yes, JORDAN HENDERSON), now find themselves in the UEFA Champions League final.
The aforementioned are all legitimate reasons as to why Liverpool football club are in no way, shape or form, one of the two best teams in Europe. Yet they’ve found a way through the group stages, round of 16, quarter finals, and semi finals of Europe’s elite competition…how?!
Well, mostly, it’s been down to luck.
Particularly, the Reds have been the benefactors of a historically kind run of cup draws. This isn’t just a sweeping statement from someone who is clearly bitter that Liverpool have made it all the way to the Champions League final. Really, it’s not. According to UEFA coefficient rankings, in comparison with Real Madrid, Liverpool have had an astonishingly easy passage through the tournament.
The combined coefficient ranking of Liverpool’s 2017/18 Champions League opponents? 218.
The combined coefficient ranking of Real Madrid’s 2017/18 Champions League opponents? 98.
In fact, the highest ranked team which Liverpool beat during the tournament, the eighth placed Manchester City, are lower ranked that every single one of Real Madrid’s knockout round opponents – Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus & Bayern Munich respectively. (Thanks for the stats Deeley)
The group stages saw Jurgen Klopp’s men face Spartak Moscow (who currently sit second in the Russian Premier League, and outside Europe’s top 100), Sevilla (who despite beating Manchester United, are a pretty terrible football team, as the fact that they haven’t won any of their last nine games attests), and Maribor (who are…who?). This relatively easy group, was won by Liverpool with the second lowest points tally of all the group winners.
Next up, Liverpool were gifted a round of 16 tie with FC Porto; a gift when you consider that the Reds could have drawn the likes of Juventus, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. While Liverpool’s 5-0 away win was undoubtedly impressive, it’s hard to imagine that there would’ve been a similarly emphatic win against any other team left in the competition.
The quarter finals would prove to be the Reds’ toughest test of the tournament so far. Up against Pep Guardiola’s seemingly all-conquering Manchester City side, Liverpool – according to the 5-1 aggregate scoreline – showed the rest of Europe that they were deserving of being considered a truly elite club.
But, did they really?
5-1 looks emphatic; it looks like a scoreline that can’t really be contested. However, it actually is contestable in this instance. During both legs of their quarter final meeting with Manchester City, the Reds proved to be incredibly fortunate at just the right times.
One of these moments of fortune came inside the first 15 minutes of the first leg at Anfield. In the 12th minute, Mohamed Salah was inexplicably not ruled offside, and thus subsequently allowed to score the opening goal of the tie.
Yes, the first leg finished 3-0, but this Salah strike would prove to be the catalyst for Liverpool’s early offensive blitz that led to the goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane. If Salah’s was ruled offside – as it should have been – do Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mane score their goals? It’s hard to say. Any answer is hypothetical. However, this moment of fortune undoubtedly gave Liverpool a perfect start to the two-legged affair.
In the second leg – as expected – Pep Guardiola’s men hit the ground running, scoring early to reduce the deficit to just two goals inside the opening five minutes. Man City thought they had reduced the deficit even further on the stroke of half time, when Leroy Sane swept the ball home from the edge of the six yard box, but the celebrations were cut short by the linesman.
Sane was offside. Apparently? Despite being clearly onside?
These two incidences – on paper – only amount to two goals (4-2 to Liverpool had the correct decisions been made). However, it would be naive to assume that both of these horrendous decisions did not effect the manner in which the games were played.
Scoring inside the first 15 minutes of the first leg, and going in at half time just one goal behind in the second, undoubtedly gave Liverpool the confidence they needed to go on and score their other four goals in the tie.
Despite the controversy, Liverpool had made it through to the semi finals, where it is impossible to avoid one of Europe’s elite…right?
Well, for the first time in over a decade, it actually wasn’t.
In the semi finals of the UEFA Champions League, Liverpool were drawn against: AS Roma.
Yes, AS Roma.
The team that are currently third in the Serie A.
The team that have Federico Fazio at the heart of their defence; the slowest man to ever get paid to run around.
The team that haven’t been in a European Cup semi final since they renamed the competition the UEFA Champions League.
While Bayern Munich and Real Madrid – two giants of European football – battled it out in a semi final, two football teams on unexpected, and rather fortunate cup runs, would face off in the other.
Liverpool would go on to score seven goals over the two legs against a team hell bent on shooting themselves the foot at every given opportunity.**
**Federico Fazio trying to hold a high defensive line throughout the first leg.
The Reds would also, however, concede an astonishing six goals over the course of their two meetings with I Giallorossi. And, once again, they would prove to be the benefactors of an incredibly horrendous refereeing decision, as Trent Alexander-Arnold’s hand ball inside the penalty area went unpenalised.
Luck has seemingly guided Jurgen Klopp’s men through each round of the UEFA Champions League so far, but are intangibles enough to see off Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid?
In theory, no.
In theory, intangibles won’t help the notoriously terrible Dejan Lovren to contain the competition’s record goalscorer. Intangibles won’t help James Milner and Jordan Henderson get within five yards of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. And intangibles won’t help the hapless Loris Karius in the Liverpool goal.
To win their sixth European Cup, Jurgen Klopp’s men need to be more than just lucky. For 90 minutes, Liverpool will need to be perfect.