Tuesday 26 March 2019

Miguel Delaney: 'Champions League a sideshow for Liverpool - Premier League is all that matters'

 

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah pictured during training at Melwood. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah pictured during training at Melwood. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine

Miguel Delaney

It is going to be a strange sensation for a big Champions League knock-out game at Anfield - and just the fourth such fixture in a decade - to not feel like a main event.

The stadium will be raucous, of course. It will crackle. It will, as Jurgen Klopp said yesterday, be a "very emotional place". It will have that magic in the air.

But it just won't have the same air as a league game right now.

That is the unavoidable context. Everything around Liverpool at the moment is geared towards one thing, and that thing is not the biggest trophy in the sport, the European Cup they have won more than any other English club.

It is instead about the trophy they used to have more of than any other English club, as Klopp said before the game. It is about reclaiming that place at the peak of the domestic game.

"If you would have to decide, for all Liverpool fans it is clear, it is the Premier League," the German said.

One figure connected to the club even confided the following: "It would probably, amazingly, feel a slight disappointment if we won the Champions League, and not the Premier League."

That wasn't said easily, of course, and it's not as if a Champions League is in any way being dismissed or sniffed at. It's just there's by now so much emotion invested in what is already an intense title race.

It means that one of football's unique events, a Champions League night at Anfield, is to a certain degree a sideshow; something to get out of the way before Mo Salah and the rest of the Reds' attacking squadron resume their principal mission.

It's all the more relevant when Bayern Munich and many in Germany have spent so much of the week talking about the atmosphere on such nights at Anfield, but then another factor slightly diluting the occasion is that the Bundesliga champions are somewhat diminished themselves.

Liverpool are probably the superior side. There isn't quite the sense that Klopp is trying to defy one of the continent's current heavyweights, in the way that really makes Anfield deafening. Because this isn't quite the Bayern side that have so dominated the Bundesliga for so long, as their current league position indicates. They are second behind Borussia Dortmund.

That is a factor that further skews this game. While Bayern have up to now found the domestic league so easy that they have become almost self-defeating in their obsession of finally reclaiming the Champions League, it has been the opposite for Liverpool.

It has felt like the competition they've a much greater chance of winning - as proven by the fact they've actually won it in the time since their last domestic title, and got to the Champions League final as often as they've finished in the top two in England.

All of this could have a tangible effect on the game. It certainly provokes some engaging questions that add to the intrigue of it.

Is it even possible that Liverpool can be anywhere near as revved up for this as they would be for a league game right now, and that's before we get to the potential absences like Virgil van Dijk?

Klopp was at least setting the right tone in that regard. "But now we play Champions League and they all expect that we will do our best tomorrow night.

"Thank God we don't have to make this decision, eh? And we will not know today or tomorrow, we have to give it our all, and play very passionate football, the football we expect when we come to Anfield."

If we don't quite know what Liverpool will turn up, the greater problem for Bayern is they don't really know what they want to be right now.

Their form reflects a club who've delayed a badly required renovation of the squad by a year.

They look stretched, and it is pointed that two of the primary figures of the past era - Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery - may be missing and it won't feel much of a loss.

It's also possible that could have unexpected benefits, as Liverpool have themselves proved in this competition.

The separate self-contained nature of the Champions League can lift under-performing or dysfunctional sides out of unconvincing spells, especially if the quality is there.

Robert Lewandowski is one of those players who has never won the competition and is aware his chances of doing so are running out, but he is still so capable of brilliantly taking chances on the pitch. James Rodriguez is meanwhile a player with a point to prove about his career.

It does feel as if the Champions League means much more to Bayern right now. Of course, time will tell whether that will matter much on the night, and one of those nights that still has so much to it. (© Independent News Service)

Independent News Service

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