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August 18, 2019

Are Liverpool the team to beat in Europe?


August 18, 2019

With their UEFA Super Cup win against Chelsea on Wednesday, Liverpool have now won two European trophies in a span of two and a half months. The Champions League win in June, which more than just eased the pain of Liverpool becoming the most prolific runners-up in the history of the English league, had come a year after Jurgen Klopp’s team had finished runners-up to a Real Madrid side that put the final jigsaw piece of their empire with a hat-trick of European Cup wins.

Their recent European accolades have extended Liverpool’s status as by far the most successful English side on the continent. Their six European Cups are twice as many as the next most successful side in Europe, Manchester United, and with their Super Cup triumph, Liverpool remain the only English team to win this particular piece of silverware since the turn of the millennium.

The match itself was a captivating encounter between two English sides – the winners of the Champions League and the Europa League – with contrasting ambitions. With the transfer ban in place, Chelsea would be hoping to maintain a top four berth this season, and see if the draw opens up in any of the cup competitions, while Liverpool are the defending European champions eying to go one better in the Premier League this season.

It was an open encounter in Istanbul with Chelsea looking good during the early exchanges, just as they did during their Premier League clash with Manchester United last weekend. This time around, Frank Lampard’s side did manage to open the scoring with Olivier Giroud who started up top in place of Tammy Abraham – who would go on to miss the decisive penalty, as it finished 2-2 after extra time, with Sadio Mane scoring a brace, and Jorginho scoring a late equalizer from the spot.

Mane looks set to have another strong year in Europe after his exploits in the Champions League last year. He and Mohamed Salah would be the driving force of this explosive Liverpool side, with Roberto Firmino completing the troika that might just be the most dynamic, and effective, attacking trio in all of Europe.

With the runners-up finish in 2018 and the Champions League win this year, Liverpool’s return to European success came in the immediate aftermath of Real Madrid’s continental hegemony being dismantled following Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Juventus.

Despite Zinedine Zidane’s return to the Santiago Bernabeu, and Juventus putting together a daunting ensemble to chase the Champions League, neither side can claim to be the favourites for Europe this season, especially given their early exits last year. Barcelona perhaps would be the bookies’ favourites, given that Champions League will be the tournament that they’d be eying the most, and the signings of Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong have further bolstered their tilts for silverware – which in recent years have largely depended on Lionel Messi.

Even so, Barcelona’s back-to-back capitulations in the Champions League are fresh in everyone’s memory – including, more agonisingly, in the minds of the Barcelona management, players and faithful. And given the past two seasons alone, which should be a sufficient enough period to gauge dominance, it’s hard to present a case against Liverpool not being the team to beat in Europe.

The paradox here indeed is that there are at least four clubs that have put winning the Champions League above anything else this season – Barcelona, Juventus, Paris Saint Germaine and Manchester City – each of whom have won back to back league titles – the trophy that Liverpool crave more than any other.

Therefore, while the form and recent achievements do suggest that Liverpool are the top side in Europe, as things stand, the priorities that each of the top contenders has for their season, for some, might give the edge to others.

There is pressure on each of those four clubs in Europe this season. For each of them, nothing less than a Champions League win would suffice. Perhaps PSG and Man City might consider reaching the final progress, but given the amount of money they’ve spent, not challenging for Europe would be hard to justify.

Barcelona have many wrongs to right in the Champions League, while the entire Juventus project – starting with the purchase of Ronaldo – is dedicated towards winning the ultimate prize in club football, which they haven’t won since 1996.

Indeed, the Champions League group stages draw that will take place on August 29 will have a say in how the top contenders fair in the latter stages, and which surprises – if any – might we be in for. Pot 1 would have the five sides that we’ve discussed along with Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Zenit St Petersburg.

Given that Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid are likely to be in Pot 2, whichever of the seven sides – since Barcelona can’t draw a Spanish club in the first round – get the two Madrid clubs would obviously have their work cut out. Then there would be the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Napoli, last year’s runners-up Tottenham Hotspur and a reformed Inter Milan under Antoine Conte in the mix as well.

However, as things stand, Liverpool are the leading side in Europe. And if last season is anything to go by, this team is perfectly capable of managing a nail-biting league race with a deep Champions League run.