Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester City and Liverpool. Of the final eight teams in the hunt for this season’s Champions League trophy, it is one of these four juggernauts who are expected to emerge at the top of the pile in Europe’s most prestigious competition.
The Spanish and Italian giants boast two of the greatest players to take the pitch in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, while the generational tactical mind of Pep Guardiola combined with Sheikh Mansour’s unfathomably deep pockets have made City the bookies’ favorite to go all the way.
And yet, with the Reds themselves boasting the game’s most charismatic manager in Jürgen Klopp, the continent’s stingiest defense led by the soon-to-be consensus world-best defender (sorry sorry, I had to) in the world in Virgil Van Dijk as well as it’s most feared attack, Liverpool supporters will like their side’s chances as a more balanced squad from front to back then any other team remaining in the competition.
Interestingly enough, it is an opinion shared by an unlikely individual in ex-Manchester United and Barcelona boss Louis Van Gaal. The storied manager, who’s ignominious end to his at time at Old Trafford belies a trophy-laden career that saw him top the Champions League and win numerous league titles, is of the belief that the Reds are actually the best side still in the competition:
”People think Barcelona are the best but they are not. Manchester City and Liverpool are more of a team than Barcelona - and Liverpool are more of a team than City,” the Dutchman told BBC.
Of course, the 67-year-old was then obligated to pay lip service to his former employers by adding, “In my philosophy, the best team shall win but I hope for City because they play the best football.”
For Liverpool, the odds of repeating last season’s march to the finals are most certainly long. Even with Philippe Coutinho holding them back, the Blaugrana look stronger than ever led by an evergreen Messi. Ronaldo has given Juventus that X-factor that has so often prevented the Old Lady from making that final step in recent times. City have been playing transcendental football all season without one of the world’s best players in the injured Kevin De Bruyne.
And yet, last year’s finalists will be of the belief that they can stand toe to toe with any club in the world over 180 minutes. Victory over quarterfinal Porto permitting, five more games will likely see Klopp’s squad need to pull out their very best to overcome the strongest sides Europe has to offer. Wouldn’t want it any other way.