Liverpool: The perfect team for the biggest challenge
Liverpool can't win the Premier League. Until Jurgen Klopp's side improve defensively, they will never be crowned English champions. They lack the consistency to churn out the required results over a long, arduous, turbulent season.
However, the Champions League is a very different affair. It is not extended and turgid. It does not take a relentless winning attitude. It can be attacked in quick, sharp strikes. It is the pinnacle of a knockout tournament.
That all plays into Liverpool's hands perfectly.
Klopp's team is painfully unprepared at the back. As well as lacking the necessary personnel to comprise a sound, sturdy defence, there is a clear absence of structure, strategy, shape, and then discipline and execution. Principally, the Reds aren't built to defend. If proof is needed, look at their central midfield options. Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Adam Lallana are all naturally offensive players. Even Jordan Henderson and Emre Can, the two most reliable anchoring midfielders, have been adapted for the role. Both possess an ambitious streak that sometimes sees them caught out of position in advanced positions.
In a 38-game league campaign, the inability to defend consistently haunts Liverpool. It has for many years. The Champions League, however, doesn't present the same shackle. While it is still important to remain tight defensively, last 16 to semi-final ties are concluded over 180 minutes. One blistering period in which several goals are scored can change the landscape completely.
Take the recent encounter between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. For much of the first leg, PSG were the most accomplished, composed and threatening team. They enjoyed long periods of controlled, progressive possession. They stifled the Madrid attack, especially in the second half. The Parisians created several excellent chances that should have been converted. If it wasn't for Cristiano Ronaldo's knee and a Marquinhos deflection, they wouldn't now find themselves in a 3-1 hole and rank outsiders to progress. Ties can turn on such moments. The current Liverpool side is made to accentuate and exploit them.
Specifically, it is the work of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino that provides the Reds with a relentless attacking threat. The trio have 40 Premier League goals combined in only 71 appearances this season. Having totalled 25 Champions League games, they've struck 21 times.
Salah, Mane and Firmino put Porto to the sword on Wednesday night, scoring five goals between them. They took just six seconds to work from their own penalty area to the back of the opposition's net. Blink and you'll miss them. And that threat, particularly in the Champions League, can prove lethal.
Despite coming away from Portugal with a 5-0 victory, Liverpool are not among Europe's best teams. They would struggle to make the top eight. However, there possibly isn't a better-suited side to the Champions League's pattern and flow. The Reds are built to flourish in knockout tournaments. They will cause serious problems to any outfit standing in their way in this season's competition.