We hadn’t even turned onto the main road on the drive home last night when my wife turned to me and said matter-of-factly, “We just beat Bayern.” The joy of the moment meant there was little time to actually reflect on that significance.
Gone. Out. Kaput.
Of course, I knew this intellectually, but it still took a moment to understand the significance.
As good as we were last year, our run to the Champions League final was a bit lackluster, and through no fault of our own. Porto. Manchester City. Roma. All good, even great, teams. But none of them are elite. Of the three, only Porto has won the Champions League (a feat they’ve accomplished twice).
During our last European resurgence under Rafa Benitez, Liverpool went toe-to-toe with elite clubs and often came out on top. In 2005 we beat Juventus in the quarters and AC Milan in the final. In 2007, we beat Barcelona in the Round of 16. In 2008 we beat Inter Milan in the Round of 16. And in 2009 we thrashed Real Madrid home and away in the Round of 16.
Last year, when we finally met up with a truly elite team in the final, the wheels came off. Sure, we can decry Sergio Ramos’s thuggery and/or the injuries to key players, but it doesn’t negate the fact that we came up shy when truly tested in the competition.
Bayern, in stark contrast to Porto, City, and Roma, are elite. Like us, they’ve won it five times. And unlike our five triumphs, their success and presence in Europe has been much more stable and consistent.
Beating Bayern was significant, because it proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this Liverpool team deserves a spot at the big boys table. And it’s something Kloppo addressed last night.
“I love it. We set a mark for LFC with this wonderful club that we really are back on the landscape of top international football,” Klopp said in his post match press conference.
”We all think that’s where this club belongs and tonight we proved it at least a bit. I am really happy about the result and the fact we are through.”
Of course, thinks (likely) won’t get easier from here. Despite the early exits of PSG and Madrids Atletico and Real, there is some stiff competition out there for the biggest trophy in world football. As it should be.
But after last night’s result—in Allianz Arena, no less—“Liverpool” is one name that no team wants to see next to theirs when the Ping Pong Balls of Destiny settle tomorrow.