Liverpool must overcome a bizarre Champions League hoodoo if they’re to progress to the knockout stages of the competition tonight.
Currently lying third in the Group C table – which would put them through to the Europa League rather than last 16 of the Champions League – the Reds go into their final fixture of the first phase of the competition proper knowing they have to beat Napoli to progress.
Jurgen Klopp’s side must secure a victory by the scoreline of either 1-0 or two goals or more (2-1 would not be enough unless Red Star beat Paris St Germain) to go through.
Such a scenario ensures that Anfield is set up for another classic European night as the home fans attempt to roar their side to the required result with shades of the final group game against Olympiakos in the 2004/05 when Rafael Benitez’s men the hosts were on the brink of elimination after Rivaldo fired the Greek club ahead at half-time only for a storming 3-1 comeback success courtesy of goals from Florent Sinama Pongolle, Neil Mellor and captain Steven Gerrard.
Of course Liverpool would then go all the way to lift the trophy that season for the fifth time to date courtesy of arguably the most spectacular recovery in a major football final, coming from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan on penalties in Istanbul.
However, there was one significant difference when it came to plotting the Reds progress throughout the tournament that season which remains rather poignant.
Many Kopites are convinced that their side are destined to do things the hard way – especially when it comes to cup competitions (five of their seven cup final wins in the 21st century have required extra time with four going to penalties) – and such a theory seems to hold considerable water.
Curiously on the three previous occasions that Liverpool have been in the Champions League but failed to qualify for the knockout stages they – like this season – went straight into their group.
In 2002/03 the Reds were up against Valencia, Basel and Spartak Moscow but finished third with two wins, two draws and two defeats ensuring the Spanish and Swiss clubs progressed.
It was a similar story in 2009/10 as they finished third behind Fiorentina and Lyon but ahead of Debrecen with two wins, a draw and three defeats.
The sequence continued on the club’s return to UEFA’s elite competition in 2014/15 as going straight into the group stage, Brendan Rodgers’ side were below Real Madrid and Basel – again – but above Ludogorets Razgrad with one win, two draws and three defeats.
Contrast this with the seven occasions that Liverpool have had to play one or more qualifying rounds and subsequently always made it out of the group.
In 2001/02 they faced Finnish side Haka and would bow out in the now defunct second group stage.
On their way to glory in 2004/05 they had overcome Austrians Graz in a qualifier while the following season as holders a fifth place Premier League finish below Everton had ensured they had to dispose of TNS (Wales); FBK Kaunas (Lithuania) and CSKA Sofia (Bulgaria) to make the groups but went on to the first knockout stage before bowing out to Ronald Koeman’s Benfica.
In 2006/07, Israelis Maccabi Haifa had to be beaten in a qualifying round but the Reds made it all the way to another final against Milan.
The next two campaigns saw exits to domestic rivals Chelsea at the semi-final and quarter-final stages but French club Toulouse and Belgians Standard Liege first had to be toppled to make the groups.
And of course last season’s march to Kiev began all the way back in the previous August when Hoffenheim were vanquished.
If Liverpool are to make it into the New Year of the 2018/19 Champions League then as well as beating Napoli they’re going to have to achieve a historical first and get what is a rather curious monkey off their back. (liverpoolecho)