John Aldridge: This Liverpool team is stronger than 2005 - but lack two key men that made Reds European champions
THE Liverpool squad that will take on Sevilla tonight is stronger than the pool of players that were crowned as European champions back in 2005 – but that does not mean Champions League glory beckons for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
When you look at the substitutes Klopp had at his disposal for the convincing 3-0 win against Southampton at Anfield, it confirms that the class of 2017 are, in fact, in a different league to the team that pulled off a miracle in Istanbul 12 years ago.
Joe Gomez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Emre Can, James Milner and Daniel Sturridge were in reserve for Klopp on Saturday and Adam Lallana is also knocking on the door of a first team return.
It made for impressive reading and with so many of Liverpool’s long-term injured getting out of the treatment room, Klopp has a chance to put right the problems that have undermined his team’s efforts in the opening weeks of this season.
The Liverpool team that came from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan had some real weak links and Rafa Benitez did a great job guiding a squad that relied on the likes of Igor Biscan, Josemi, Djimi Traore and a half-fit Harry Kewell to Champions League glory.
When I look at this current Liverpool team in comparison, they lack the two players who gave the 2005 version star quality.
If Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher in their prime were dropped into Klopp’s line-up now, I believe they would have a real chance of challenging for the Champions League this season, with those two homegrown heroes carrying that team to improbable success.
A world-class player like Gerrard would drive what is already an excellent Liverpool attacking unit to new heights now and Carragher would be the perfect character to organise a defence that cracked under pressure far too often during Klopp’s time at the club.
So while I expect to see Liverpool frightening a few of Europe’s big-hitters in the latter stages of the Champions League, I believe they will come up short in the ultimate dream of winning the club’s sixth European title.
The first priority has to be seeing off a Sevilla side who were there for the taking until Liverpool committed defensive errors against them at Anfield back in September. If they make it through to the knock-out stages, the opposition may well play into the hands of Klopp’s side.
Aside from last month’s 4-1 defeat against Tottenham in Wembley and the 5-0 drubbing against Man City when we were reduced to ten men a few weeks before that, this Liverpool side has done well against teams that come out and attack them in a straight game of football.
Klopp has a good record home and away against top six rivals and the teams Liverpool will come up against in the second phase of the Champions League will play with ambition to attack.
Top sides don’t tend to sit back and play for 0-0 draws (unless they are managed by Jose Mourinho!) and Liverpool have shown that their attacking line featuring the in-form Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho are a threat for any defence.
The trouble will come at the other end of the pitch. While Dejan Lovren had his best game of the season against Southampton’s Shane Long on Saturday, how will he cope if Lionel Messi, Neymar or Cristiano Ronaldo are coming at him in a Champions League quarter-final?
I suspect I know the answer to that question and it means Liverpool’s only hope of winning this season’s competition will be outscoring opponents who have a proven track record of coming out on top in a straight scoring battle.
Klopp could sign a powerful centre-half like Virgil van Dijk in January who could go some way to curing their defensive problems, but it may be asking too much for all the pieces of the jigsaw to fall into place for Liverpool to challenge for the Champions League in 2018.
The opponents Liverpool will come up against at the back end of this season’s competition are much stronger than they were back in 2005.
While I would love to see Klopp’s side defying the odds, anything beyond a run to the quarter-finals would have been viewed as a bonus this time around.