Liverpool return to Champions League with hope and intent for past success
Jurgen Klopp’s side are back in Europes elite competition for the first time in three years and can draw on the Germans time at Borussia Dortmund as a template for success
Jurgen Klopp had not long sat down in the Etihad Stadiums media room following Liverpools 5-0 defeat to Manchester City at the weekend when he was asked about his sides upcoming Champions League group match against Sevilla. Perhaps rattled by his heaviest loss since arriving in England two years ago, the German stumbled.
We play Tuesday, he said, before being corrected. We play Wednesday? Really? One day more. Good.
It was a curious error but what can be said with confidence is that even if the manager is not sure when Liverpool next play, the supporters certainly are. After all, they have been waiting for this moment for a long time.
Ever since 9 December 2014, to be precise. It was the evening Liverpool hosted the Swiss champions Basel in their final Champions League Group B match requiring a victory to progress to the knockout rounds. The stage was set for a classic European night at Anfield the colour, the noise, the eventual triumph for the men in red. Instead Basel took the lead and frustrated their opponents, whose only meaningful response was a Steven Gerrard equaliser nine minutes from full time.
And so concluded a wretched return to Europes elite competition for the first time in five years for the five-times winners finishing third, two points behind Basel and 13 behind Real Madrid after winning only one of their six group fixtures. The final whistle sucked the life out of Anfield and for many also signalled the beginning of the end of Brendan Rodgers tenure as manager. He was sacked and replaced by Klopp the following October.
But now Liverpool are back and it is a neat coincidence that their first group game since drawing with Basel should be against the side who delayed their return to the Champions League by beating them in the very same Swiss city 16 months ago.
Sevillas 3-1 triumph in the 2016 Europa League final was a desperately disappointing outcome for Klopps men, who led at half-time through Daniel Sturridges fine strike before capitulating after the interval. They missed out on a trophy as well as automatic Champions League qualification. Collective introspection followed, as did a recovery with Liverpool finishing fourth in the Premier League last season and victory over Hoffenheim in a play-off last month. And now they are reunited with a team who have undergone significant change since they last met in Switzerland.
As well as losing a number of players who helped them win what was a third successive Europa League title, most notably Kevin Gameiro, Sevilla lost the man who masterminded the triumph, Unai Emery, who departed for Paris Saint-Germain the following month. His successor, Jorge Sampaoli, stuck around for one season before taking over Argentinas national team and was replaced by Eduardo Berizzo, who arrived from Celta Vigo in June.