Nearly a year on from their heartbreak in Kiev, Liverpool are on the verge of another Uefa Champions League final. Only Spanish champions Barcelona stand in their way and a place in the Madrid showpiece on June 1. Here is why Liverpool will go all the way:
Mo and Mane firing
Friday night provided another endorsement of Liverpool's attack. Albeit against an already-relegated Huddersfield Town, Jurgen Klopp's men cruised to a 5-0 victory at Anfield. Mohamed Salah scored twice, as did Sadio Mane.
It lifted the duo to 21 and 20 goals Premier League goals, respectively, for the season, ensuring Liverpool became the first club to have two players pass the 20-goal mark in the same English top-flight campaign since 2013/14.
After his recent blip, Salah has rediscovered his mojo, notching his 69th goal in 100 matches for Liverpool – a club record. Mane, meanwhile, has arguably been the team’s most consistent attacker. Add to that the hugely impressive Roberto Firmino, a fit-again Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the dependable supply from full-back, and lethal Liverpool have the firepower to propel them to glory.
Van Dijk and that defence
Virgil van Dijk's influence should not be overstated. The Dutchman, who on Sunday succeeded Salah as the PFA Player of the Year, has been a colossus in defence this season, his presence and his reading of the game bringing much-needed calm to the backline.
Liverpool boast the meanest defence in the Premier League – 20 goals – and, while they have conceded the second-most of the four remaining teams in the Champions League – 11 – they have been drawn against Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli and Bayern Munich. Andrew Robertson’s energy has been vital, and the full-back’s 11 assists in this Premier League – a seasonal record for a defender – confirms his expert delivery.
On the opposite flank, Trent Alexander-Arnold has been superb. With Alisson in goal and Fabinho, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita and Georginio Wijnaldum options in central midfield, Liverpool are robust enough to capture a sixth European Cup crown.
Been there, done it … almost
Last year, Liverpool went agonisingly close to ruling Europe once more. Chasing a first Champions League trophy since 2005, Klopp's side stormed into the final against Real Madrid, only to lose in Kiev to a combination of Loris Karius' ineptitude and Gareth Bale's incredible improvisation. The 3-1 defeat meant Liverpool concluded an otherwise progressive campaign on a sour note.
However, that hurt should drive them this time around. As noted, they are better prepared to go one step further. They have the defensive solidity and the attacking prowess; all that is needed is the mental fortitude to get over the line. Liverpool can take comfort in the fact they know what it takes to contest the final, and that they have both far-reaching and recent pedigree in the tournament.
Riding crest of wave
In theory, twin pursuits could impact negatively Liverpool’s quest to end the season with domestic and European success. The Anfield club are intent on snapping a 29-year wait, pushing current Premier League holders Manchester City right to the wire. Given the distance between their last top-flight crown and this latest attempt, the feeling is that the hunt for that particular trophy takes precedence.
Yet Liverpool are arguably the best equipped of the Champions League semi-final sides. Crucially, they seem set for a late burst. Friday’s victory was their 10th consecutive in all competitions – their best winning run in almost 13 years. They are unbeaten in 19 – their longest streak in more than 23 years. Built upon Klopp’s high press, Liverpool show little sign of slowing down. They can overrun and outgun opponents: a heady mix.