Rickie Lambert, Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini, Joe Allen, Lazar Markovic. To most football fans, these are but the names of players who flopped in Liverpool’s recent past. Though, to fans of the club, they resurrect memories of a pathetic Champions League campaign.
A campaign in which Liverpool struggled past Bulgarian champions Ludogorets in the opening game of the group, thanks to yet another last gasp Steven Gerrard winner in the final minutes. Performances wherein Liverpool were humbled not once but twice by a blistering Real Madrid before picking up a single fortunate point in two games against swiss outfit FC Basel.
Against the world’s elite footballing sides in the most valued league in club football, Liverpool were a shadow of the powerhouse that once dominated the competition on this, the greatest stage of all. The blue badges adorned with the club’s five previous European trophies weighed heavy on those long nights, dragging players (little more than stop-gaps) through games in which they had little business being.
The surrealism of thirty-two-year-old, ex-Southampton target man Rickie Lambert pulling on a red shirt and scoring against Ludogorets, just a year after playing in the Championship, was just as out of place as the weakened sides Brendan Rodgers was fielding; opting to rest star players ahead of Premier League matches instead.
1 – Brendan Rodgers has won only one of his 12 Champions League group stage games as manager (Liverpool 2-1 Ludogorets, Sept 2014). Struggle pic.twitter.com/l4cPCqHfsJ
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 12, 2017
A Luis Suarez-inspired Liverpool came close to clinching the Premier League title the season prior to these Champions League outings. But now, without his ability to single-handedly carry Liverpool through games, a lacklustre squad remained following his departure to Barcelona.
Tuesday and Wednesday nights in Liverpool were met with anxiety and then relief at the final whistle. No enjoyment came of these games. There was no hope or expectation of anything more than a third-place finish and a spot in the Europa League.
Flags were packed away and songs became but a murmur on cold autumn nights. Worst of all, the football on the pitch became acceptant of this; the magic of European nights at Anfield was gone and looked unlikely to return; the magic of European nights at Anfield was gone and looked unlikely to return.
But times are changing on Merseyside; Liverpool fans speak of the Champions League as if their last inclusion in the competition has all but been forgotten. The optimism and belief in the club are almost tangible this year as Jurgen Klopp fills the role of motivator, long absent since Suarez, and brings with him a side brimming with goals and potential for the big occasion.
If you seek evidence of this, you need only speak of the Champions league to a Liverpool fan and watch as their team’s 5-0 thrashing by Manchester City this past weekend quickly fades from memory and instead, anticipation takes its stead.
When the Liverpool players walk out at Anfield against Sevilla, they will be met with an optimism that has been missed from beneath those floodlights since the days of Rafael Benitez in European competition. A genuine belief that the improbable can – and will – happen against the best teams in the world may well be just what the club need to get back to their glory days.
When Liverpool fan's hear the Champions League music playing again at Anfield
— Anything Liverpool (@AnythingLFC_) September 12, 2017
Liverpool will be keen to atone for their performance against Sevilla in the Europa League final last year and revenge is always sweet. Expect this game to be explosive, atmospheric and emotionally charged; exactly the formula which suits Liverpool who have a good record in this competition.
We have already seen flashes of brilliance from Klopp’s Liverpool in Europe, and if he can replicate this form it may just be that Anfield’s magic will return.