John Aldridge: Can Liverpool win the Champions League? I'll put it this way... this team is better than in 2005
YOU could be forgiven for thinking Liverpool had been paired with lower league opponents in the Champions League last-16 given the sense of the euphoria that greeted the draw against FC Porto.
There has been a perception in some quarters that Liverpool got lucky with this draw and should breeze through to the quarter-finals, but let me tell you here and now – Porto will be a tough nut to crack.
This is a team sitting top of the Portuguese league, unbeaten at their home ground in domestic competition this season and a side that are used to winning football matches.
Porto have a fantastic pedigree in European competition and they will not be intimidated by Liverpool for a moment, yet some of the coverage I have seen around this game might lead you to believe this will be a walkover for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
Tomorrow night’s game will be Liverpool’s first knock-out game in the competition for nine long years and that statistic alone in a reminder that this is new territory for these players. Never mind that Liverpool are five-time European champions as that proud history will count for nothing when Porto look to use all their experience of playing Champions League knock-out games to their advantage.
I’m sure Klopp and his players will not have been affected by the ‘easy draw’ references as he will realise that his side are up against dangerous opponents and as we have seen from this Liverpool teams at times this season, they can turn in performances that can lead to defeat against all kinds of opposition. The 1-0 loss at Swansea and the FA Cup defeat against West Bromwich Albion last month were examples of occasions when this talented Liverpool side failed to do what they do best and I’m sure Porto will draw confidence from those displays.
On the other hand, Liverpool should go into this game feeling positive after the big win at Southampton on Sunday opened up a real chance for them to push for a second place finish in the Premier League this season. Domestic ambitions can be put on hold for now as a competition that means so much for Liverpool fans is back on the agenda and the objectives in this first game against Porto are clear.
An away goal or two in Portugal could be so valuable to the overall outcome of the game and while this may sound a little negative, a 2-1 defeat in this first match would not be the end of the world for Liverpool.
I have seen some of the highest profile players in world football quaking in their boots on big European nights at Anfield and the noise and passion you expect on a big Champions League nights in that stadium will be ramped up a few more notches with the new stand allowing so many more people to get into game. If Liverpool are in touching distance of Porto heading into the second leg, I would fancy them to get through and yet the confidence (some would say arrogance) of some to suggest that this is an easy draw baffles me.
Porto may be looking at the weaknesses in the Liverpool side and thinking they have been given a good chance to get through to the quarter-finals here, but I am backing Klopp’s side to get the win over the two legs. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if a few English teams end up competing at the back end of the Champions League this season.
We have had a few years of Spanish, German and Italian teams winning the biggest trophy of them all, but all the English teams left in the competition have the ability to beat anyone on their day. Manchester City are the bookies favourites to win the Champions League and you can see why as they have been fantastic this season, but Liverpool beat them a few weeks back in a thrilling game and that belief will be there if the two teams meet again. While Tottenham have a tough draw against Juventus and Chelsea will struggle to beat Barcelona, I’d expect Manchester United to see off Sevilla, as Jose Mourinho’s cautious approach tends to be effective in European matches.
Could Liverpool go all the way to the final in Kiev and win the Champions League this season? Put it this way, they have a better team than they had when they were last crowned as European champions back in 2005, with a miracle run that ended with a never to be forgotten final against AC Milan in Istanbul 13 years ago proving that anything is possible in this game.