Tonight they host a Porto team and supporters looking for a reaction, but surely this tie is already settled.
Liverpool city centre is packed with supporters who have made their journey from the colourful coastal city in northwest Portugal. You see them all over town. They’ve wrapped their blue scarves snuggly around their necks to protect them from the cold wind coming in over the Irish Sea (surprise surprise, the weather on Merseyside is currently grey). But they’re also proudly displaying their loyalty to the team that suffered a phenomenal thrashing from the Reds, at home, two weeks ago.
We had our miracle in Istanbul. Now Porto are hoping for a miracle on Merseyside. But soz lads, you’ve got no chance.
Credit to the Porto supporters. At the end of that savage Valentine’s Day beating, they never abandoned their team. They stayed behind, in the ground, singing their songs and praising their players, even as Mané completed his hat-trick in the 85th minute and Liverpool went 5-0 up.
And now here they are. Walking through Matthew Street, having a pint and taking in a Beatles cover act in the Cavern. Some of them have even braced the cold weather and gone for a stroll of the famous waterfront. But at the back of their minds, the upcoming football is lingering. They’ll no doubt be hoping. Wishing for a miracle, dreaming of handing an in-form Liverpool team their biggest defeat at Anfield since Sunderland won 6-0 in 1930.
Porto have bounced back honourably from the Liverpool showing they suffered in their last encounter. Domestically they went on to win four games in a row, most noticable the 2-1 win against third placed Sporting Lisbon this weekend, securing a five point gap at the top of the Portuguese Premier Division.
Thats nice for them, isn’t it? But Porto need to whip out one hell of a performance at Anfield tonight to have a shot at progressing to the quarter-finals. They need at least five goals. An easy 6-0 win sees them straight through. A modest 7-1 would do it too. No other team in history has managed to come back from a 5-0 defeat at home in a knockout tie but could it happen?
There’s always Peak Liverpool. Peak Liverpool loses comfortable leads against Sevilla, Arsenal, Palace and Bournemouth to name a recent few. Or beats top-of-the-league Manchester City, only to get beat by almost-bottom-of-the-league Swansea City the following week. But even the Liverpoolest of Liverpools can’t Liverpool this one up.
We’ve been waiting for this forever. Nine years, to be exact. We’ve longed for the Champions League knockout stages since Chelsea knocked us out of the quarter-finals in 2009, after Liverpool had progressed from the first round by thrashing Real Madrid 4-0 and 1-0.
Sure the atmosphere will suffer from the Reds turning this into a friendly, a formality. But Anfield is starving. Kopites are hungry. The Kop has got the munchies for the Champions League knockout stages, under the floodlights. It’s long overdue. Liverpool are back where we feel we belong and will, most likely, cruise comfortably into the last eight.