LIVERPOOL’S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE JOURNEY SO FAR
The 2021/22 UEFA Champions League final is just three days away with Liverpool going head to head with Real Madrid in a repeat of the 2017/18 final. It has been an impressive campaign for the Reds from matchday 1 till date. We recap the journey so far.
Group of Death
On 26th of August 2021, the group stage draw was held and Liverpool were placed in group B alongside Atletico Madrid, FC Porto and AC Milan. It was widely regarded as the group of Death, but Jürgen Klopp’s side made a mockery of that tag.
The Reds kick-started their journey against old foes AC Milan (who were making their long awaited return to the competition) at Anfield on 15th September. The Reds were resplendent as they blew away the Italians in the opening thirty minutes with a fierce press and a pace Milan couldn’t live with.
They took the lead through a Tomori own goal before Salah’s missed penalty gave the Rosonneri a reprieve. Pioli’s men stunned Anfield with two quick fire goals right before halftime to turn the game on its head.
Liverpool fought back with Salah atoning for his missed penalty before a special Henderson strike sealed the victory. It was a thrilling game that hearkened back to the mid 2000s when these two giants contested finals. Anfield was rocking, the Champions League was well and truly back!
Next was a trip to Portugal to once again face FC Porto. Conceicao’s men, no doubt sick of the sight of Liverpool, were handed another thrashing infront of their home crowd. 5-1 it finished, with Mané, Firmino and Salah all on the scoresheet. Jones was the standout after a sparkling display.
A trip to the Wanda Metropolitano followed in what was possibly the toughest test in the group stages. It turned out to be another entertaining affair as Liverpool went 2-0 up through Salah and Keita before Atleti stormed back to draw level.
The hosts rode the wave of that momentum and would have taken the lead but for some brilliant goalkeeping. Alisson came up trumps with key saves to keep his side in the game. Jota won a penalty and Salah made no mistake from the spot, sending Oblak the wrong way to wrap up the points.
Three wins from three and eleven goals scored, the Reds were purring. Salah was in the form of his life and all the top clubs were put on notice. Liverpool were back! After struggling the previous season due to a debilitating centre back injury crisis, the Reds were back to their usual imperious selves.
Klopp’s side headed into Matchday 4 knowing victory would seal qualification with two games to spare, a change from the usual nail-biting affair that goes down to the last group game. Atleti visited Anfield and were turned over 2-0 with the Reds not even getting out of second gear.
A quick start saw Mané and Jota score before the halfway point of the first half. Simeone’s side then got a man sent off again and had to see the rest of the game out with damage limitation in mind. The victory not only confirmed qualification but guaranteed Liverpool as group winners.
Group of death? What group of death? The last two games were essentially deadrubbers but Liverpool still went on to win them for good measure. Porto were defeated 2-0 at Anfield, in a game memorable for a jaw dropping Thiago goal and a customary Salah finish.
The group stages concluded with a 2-1 win at the San Siro as a rotated side kept Milan at arm’s length. Konaté and Phillips as a centre back pairing completely dominated Ibrahimovic, with an Origi winner putting the icing on the cake. 18/18 points.
Easy peasy as the Reds became the first English side to win all six Champions League group stage games. The knockout stages beckoned with the Reds seeded for the draw and top of every team’s list of clubs to avoid.
The Round of 16 draw paired Liverpool against Inter Milan (after the initial draw pitted the Reds against Salzburg). The Nerazurri were reigning Italian champions at the time and represented a tougher test than City rivals AC.
The first leg would take place at the San Siro on February 17th. A tactical battle was eventually settled by second half strikes from Firmino and Salah. The gaffer changed the game from the bench with his substitutes having the desired impact.
Van Dijk was the standout as he shut down Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez in a Man of the Match display. It was a reminder that he was back to his unbeatable best after almost a year long absence with a knee injury. The 2-0 first leg lead meant the tie was all but done.
The second leg was a tepid affair, with a poor Liverpool performance punished by Inter. Lautaro Martinez’s sensational strike put Inzhagi’s men 1-0 up on the night but a sending off quickly curtailed the momentum they were building up as the Reds saw it out to qualify for the last eight.
A kind draw saw Benfica as the quarter final opponents. Another first leg away win put Liverpool in the driving seat, with goals from Konaté, Mané and Diaz earning a 3-1 win at the Estadio da Luz.
Luis Diaz, the winter signing from Porto, was particularly electric. The result set things up for a laid back second leg, as a rotated side saw the tie out with an entertaining 3-3 draw at Anfield. Darwin Nunez announced himself to the world.
The semi final took place on the 27th of April, with Unai Emery’s Villarreal the opponents after they knocked out Bayern Munich. Once again Liverpool were strong in the first leg, winning 2-0 to all but secure their place in the showpiece final.
Mané’s goal added to a fortuitous own goal to break down the Spanish side’s stubborn resistance. Trent was unreal on the night, playing some exquisite passes, but the true standout was Thiago. The schemer was in scintillating mood.
Villarreal to their credit made a fight of it in the second leg as they wiped out Liverpool’s lead with an unbelievable first half performance at the Estadio de la Ceramica. Luis Diaz came on at the interval however and put in the most devastating substitute performance of the season.
With an embarrassing exit on the cards, the Colombian almost single handedly turned the tie back in the Reds’ favour as they came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate. It encapsulated the quality of the side in the face of adversity.
So the final awaits on Saturday. Whatever happens, it’s been a fun ride through Europe’s premier competition. Loads of players have contributed to this run and they can all be proud of themselves as they look to lift number 7 in Paris.
Liverpool in the 2021/22 UCL:
Most Appearances : Alisson, Fabinho, Salah, Mané (12)
Most starts : Alisson (12)
Most Minutes : Alisson (1,080)
Most Goals : Salah (8)
Most Assists : Alexander-Arnold, Robertson (3)
Most Chances Created : Robertson (22)
Most Passes Completed : Van Dijk (584)
Most Successful Dribbles : Salah (25)
Most Successful Tackles : Fabinho (17)
Most Interceptions : Fabinho (16)
Most Clearances : Van Dijk (27)
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