Wed. Jul 6th, 2022

The real deal

It’s unlikely that Jurgen Klopp has formed an official order of priority for Liverpool this season.

But perhaps, somewhere, the Reds boss has quietly jotted down the Champions League at No.1 on his four-trophy wishlist between now and the end of May.

Liverpool will accept that the Premier League, while still technically within grasp, is in the bosom of holders Manchester City for now, and although it can still be wrestled away, Pep Guardiola’s nine-point advantage places him as the favourite for the big domestic heavyweight bout.

The FA Cup will probably take on greater significance if Norwich can be navigated next month to set up a quarter-final appearance, while attention will turn to that Carabao Cup showpiece with Chelsea next week.

Despite the fact that Liverpool are still fighting on three fronts at home, it is the European Cup that this club retains a special relationship with, one that is unlike any other in English football.

It will be three years in June since Klopp lifted the first of his trophy haul at Anfield and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s admission that the squad now see it as the minimum expectation to add to that every season was a bold one that sets up a potentially gripping few months at the club.

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This 2-0 victory here in their second visit to the San Siro since early December only reaffirmed what a growing number of football watchers on the continent surely already know: this is a team to be feared.

They are not the overblown product of a Premier League hype machine – Klopp’s Liverpool are the real deal.

That much was evident here as the Reds dug deep before sweeping aside the Italian champions in their own backyard to continue a run that now stands at seven successive triumphs in the Champions League this term.

Inter, the Serie A holders, had lost just three times in 13 months at home prior to the Reds’ arrival, but they can now add the name of Liverpool alongside Juventus, Real Madrid and AC Milan on that particular list.

Klopp’s side became the first English team since a Thierry Henry-inspired Arsenal 18 years ago to beat the Italian giants in their own backyard in a competitive game to boot.

They are, without question, one of the strongest left at Europe’s top table and having already worked out just what is needed to lift the grandest prize in club football back in 2019, there is ample evidence that a repeat could be on the cards.

Negotiate the home leg against the Nerazzurri on March 8, as they well should, and they will have the rest of the competition hiding behind the sofas when the quarter-final draw is made.

Elliott cover blown as young star makes history

If Harvey Elliott needed any more evidence of how highly rated he is by Jurgen Klopp, then this was the biggest show of faith yet.

Having not started a game since September, when he suffered a serious, long-term ankle injury at Leeds United, the call to name the teenager in midfield alongside Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho was a historic one.

As a result, Elliott became the youngest player in Liverpool’s history to start a Champions League game, eclipsing a certain Trent Alexander-Arnold, who had held that particular record since a game with Spartak Moscow in September 2017.

Alexander-Arnold was less than a fortnight away from his 19th birthday when he played in that 1-1 draw in Russia, but Elliott will not reach that same milestone until early April.

That, then, shows just how Elliott is viewed within the Anfield ranks and only special talents are afforded such opportunities at this football club.

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It was an insight into just how high those within the club believe his ceiling is given he has taken that slice of European history from a player who is now one of the most influential players in this wondrous Liverpool team in the 23-year-old Alexander-Arnold.

Elliott started, as he has in every senior game of his career, without nerves, settling into the rough and tumble of the midfield battle with his usual poise in possession.

The former Fulham youngster was unable to make a truly decisive contribution in his hour on the pitch, but the start alone is enough to believe in the brightest of futures for one of Europe’s elite teens.

Thiago continues decorating job

This was the type of stage that both Jurgen Klopp and Thiago Alcantara would have had in mind when the midfielder signed for Liverpool in September 2020.

A two-time Champions League winner with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Thiago joined as one of the most decorated players of the 2010s just weeks after helping the latter to a sixth European Cup.

So a start in the centre of the San Siro pitch, in the knockout stages of football’s most grandiose club tournament, was a status befitting of the furnished Thiago.

After the chaotic and often farcical nature of last season, he has been able to display his class more regularly this time around, even if injuries have never been too far away.

But if Liverpool are to enjoy success in Europe this season, their chances will increase no end if they can keep the 30-year-old fit on a prolonged basis.

Klopp’s side are yet to lose when he has started in the same midfield as the outstanding, yet curiously substituted, Fabinho and they must now be the automatic pairing for big games going forward, starting with the Carabao Cup clash next Sunday.

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