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Liverpool’s FA Cup Exit Forces A Renewed Focus On The Champions League

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But first, the Reds need to find a way back to their winning ways.

Liverpool FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

Liverpool are having a historic season. Barring for something truly catastrophic—a season called off because of COVID-19, a civilization ending meteor, a Twitter spat leading to a nuclear exchange, etc—Liverpool will be Premier League champions.

It should be enough.

And yet, as we sit here in early March, there is the real possibility that the season could be effectively over by the middle of next week. And it is precisely because of our league dominance, that the let off from winning the thing we’ve wanted to win for three decades will somehow feel muted. It will feel, in short, “not enough.”

The Reds went from being seemingly invincible, to rather quite vincible. Three losses out of the last four. Three losses in three different competitions. Worse yet, three losses where Liverpool failed to score a single goal. Three losses where our normally stingy defense has given up an absurd amount of easy-to-prevent goals. One loss ended our hopes of a treble altogether. Another ended our hopes of setting a multitude of records. And the loss in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 has put us on some seriously thin ice in the competition.

We’ve lost our mojo, and we have a scant few days to get it back.

Liverpool need to get back to their winning ways, starting with Bournemouth at home on Saturday.

And a week from today, they need to find a way past Atletico Madrid. This is not the opponent you want to come up against when having a sudden crisis of confidence in front of goal. And yet here we are. A goal behind, and no away goals to help us out. Of course, we’ve been up against far worse—and in recent memory—when returning to Anfield against a Spanish side.

Liverpool, in a way that is unique amongst English sides, need European football. We need those dramatic, ravenous, celebrations of continental football coming to Anfield. It is part of our identity. It is who we are, and we do not make sense without those nights.

It is what Brendan Rodgers, despite his brilliance in nearly taking that 2013/14 Liverpool side to the promised land, did not understand. The fans did their best to recreate European nights on Premier League Saturdays—to turn Anfield into a cauldron during that final stretch of the season—but it wasn’t the same. Nor was it enough. He deprioritized our European commitments throughout his tenure as manager, and the club as a whole suffered.

Jurgen Klopp, on the other hand, gets it. He’s never lost a European knockout tie with Liverpool. Three finals in three European campaigns. It’s an unbelievable accomplishment. For many clubs European success is accomplished at the expense of domestic success. This hasn’t been the case under Kloppo. It has created even more excitement to get to Anfield, sing and cheer the lads on, regardless of the competition.

It is why 2016/17 is a largely forgotten season, and why 2017/18 is so memorable. In both seasons, Liverpool needed a win on the final day to clinch European football. But in the latter, Liverpool came bouncing into the final day off the back of qualification for the Champions League final. Liverpool actually finished with more points in 2016/17, and yet 2017/18 feels like an improvement. Because we also did it in Europe.

It is why we need to continue this European adventure. Is the double still too much to ask? Perhaps. But we know this side is good enough. If we get past Atletico.

For now, I just want this journey to continue. I want to see Liverpool’s name pulled out of the Ping Pong Balls of Destiny. I want to see the downtrodden look on our future opponents’ faces, knowing they have to come to Anfield. I want to see these Reds have something to play for when the quarterfinals kick off in April. And again when the semifinals kick off in May.

We’ve had blips like this before. In 2016/17, an untimely blip cost us a run at the title, and both domestic competitions. Last year, those few draws in February ultimately cost us the title. This year? We’ve already lost a lot from the blip. But not all is lost. Or at least it won’t be, if we can turn the tide against Atletico.

Klopp & Co. have one week to turn it around. He knows the importance of Europe to this club. I trust that he’ll right the ship in time.