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You never know with Liverpool: can the Reds win the Champions League?

Liverpool vs Real Madrid, Champions League, Sergio Ramos and Mohamed Salah
(Image credit: PA)

“You never know with Liverpool…” - the words of commentator Clive Tyldesley after Steven Gerrard scored the Reds’ first goal of their comeback UEFA Champions League win over AC Milan in 2005.

Now, 16 years later, Jurgen Klopp’s side have been handed a huge match in their quarter-final as they seek a return to Istanbul and the chance to salvage what has been a perfect storm of a pandemic-affected season for the reigning English champions.

With domestic form having gone about as well as the first 45 minutes did in the Ataturk Stadium in May 2005, Liverpool can turn it all around by lifting ‘Ol’ Big Ears’ for the seventh time.

To do so, they’d need to overcome Real Madrid in the last-eight, then Chelsea or Porto in the semi-final, before a final showdown back at the Ataturk on 29 May.

“Madrid had all the f**king luck….”

The draw against Real also gives an opportunity to right the events of 2018 in Kyiv, when an early injury to Mohamed Salah after a controversial challenge from Sergio Ramos paved the way for the Spanish side to lift the trophy for a third consecutive season.

For Liverpool, it was a third final loss under Klopp in three seasons, but the German was still in high spirits when he was filmed singing with friends in the early hours after the defeat: “We saw the European Cup, Madrid had all the f**king luck, we’ll just keep being cool, and bring it back to Liverpool.”

They did indeed bring it back to Liverpool just 12 months later, beating Tottenham in Madrid in the 2019 final and ending Klopp’s finals losing streak in style before being welcomed back to Merseyside by crowds of over 750,000 supporters.

Of the Reds’ side that started in Kyiv, all-but Dejan Lovren are still officially Liverpool players - although Loris Karius is out on loan and Virgil van Dijk will, of course, be sidelined for the re-match. James Milner is unlikely to start in midfield, while Roberto Firmino is fighting for his place in the lineup against Diogo Jota.

No chance with Kabak and Phillips…?

But it’s the centre of defence where Liverpool have had issues this season and, according to former Champions League winner Rio Ferdinand, is why they won’t win it this year.

“If Van Dijk and (Joe) Gomez aren’t there, they don’t win the Champions League for me, at all,” said Ferdinand after the last-16 ties.

“There’s Bayern, there’s Man City, PSG - those teams will be licking their lips if they come up against a centre-back partnership like that at this level.”

Ferdinand was referring to the pairing of Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak - Liverpool’s 18th different duo in the heart of defence this season.

In all honesty, Ferdinand has a point, it’s far from what anybody associated with Liverpool would have wanted or remotely expected six months ago and it isn’t ideal. But then, being 3-0 down at half time to an AC Milan side with the likes of Paolo Maldini, Cafu, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Kaka, Hernan Crespo and Andriy Schevchenko wasn’t either.

But, you never know with Liverpool - and especially with this Liverpool under Klopp. Just ask Barcelona.

A tweet in response to Ferdinand’s comments (opens in new tab) from a Liverpool fan joked: “We won it with Traore and Biscan, don’t tell us what we can do.”

“Just look at these teams we beat in 2005,” read another, citing very strong Juventus, Chelsea and AC Milan opponents who Rafa Benitez’s side were firmly the underdogs against.

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Speaking after the draw last month, Benitez said: “We were a team with belief. I think Liverpool (now) can do the same and go to the final.” While conceding that Man City are, for him, the favourites, Benitez added: “Liverpool, they have the quality, structure and players coming back from injuries.”

There is absolutely no doubt that, even with a less-than-ideal centre-back pairing, Liverpool’s 2021 lineup is vastly superior to the 2005 version that lifted the Cup so unexpectedly.

In football, anything can happen, that’s the beauty of the game. And it would be somewhat typical of this incarnation of Liverpool to somehow end what has been an utterly bizarre 2020/21 season by reaching a third Champions League final in four years.

Salah’s shot at redemption

The defeat against Real in 2018 was hard to take for many, but perhaps most of all for Salah, who was the victim of what many saw as a judo-style challenge, with Klopp later referring to Ramos as a “brutal wrestler.”

When the Egyptian, who had scored 44 goals in his debut campaign at Anfield that season, left the field, Zinedine Zidane’s side took control of the final, with left-back Marcelo now liberated to attack. Before that, it had been the Reds who had the upper hand.

Three years on, the battle between Ramos and Salah dominates the build up to this quarter-final tie. For Liverpool’s players, they will be out to avenge the events in the Olympisky National Stadium. For supporters, the immediate thought is how Ramos is escaping what would have been a cauldron of noise for the Anfield leg. 

There will, naturally, be a focus on what went before and a steely desire to right what is perceived by many within the squad as a wrong. Firmino apparently called Ramos “an idiot” (opens in new tab), while Lovren admitted to seeking Ramos out when coming up against him for Croatia against Spain shortly after. “It was time to pay for what he has done,” said the Croat.

And it’s hard not to believe that will be the common belief among a Liverpool squad who have continually put records right during their last four years together under Klopp.

Lose a Champions League final? Win it 12 months later.

Record a club-record points haul but still finish second in the league? Win it 12 months later with more games remaining than any other club in English football history.

Lose 3-0 in the Nou Camp? Win 4-0 in the return leg to become the first team to ever overcome such a deficit in Champions League history.

Liverpool winning the Champions League in Istanbul in May would be hugely unexpected, just like it was in 2005. “You never know with Liverpool…”

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Matt Ladson is the co-founder and editor of This Is Anfield, the independent Liverpool news and comment website, and covers all areas of the Reds for FourFourTwo – including transfer analysis, interviews, title wins and European trophies. As well as writing about Liverpool for FourFourTwo he also contributes to other titles including Yahoo and Bleacher Report. He is a lifelong fan of the Reds.