Liverpool made short work of Bayern Munich on Wednesday night, beating the German champions to march in to the last eight of the Champions League for the second consecutive season.
History was not on their side. In the last 15 seasons, only six out of 21 sides playing away from home in a Champions League knock out tie following a 0-0 first leg qualified for the next round. Two goals from Sadio Mané and one from Virgil van Dijk ensured the Reds became the seventh team to beat the odds.
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The Reds’ last three quarter-finals at Europe’s top table have all been against Premier League sides: Manchester City last season, Chelsea in 2008/09 and Arsenal the year before. The run is over though, as Porto were drawn to face Liverpool in the last eight.
Pundits have been suggesting it would benefit Liverpool’s title tilt to exit the Champions League.
Indeed, prior to the tie with Bayern, it felt on social media as if many Kopites wouldn’t have been too disheartened had their side gone out when there’s a league title to be won.
7️⃣ days. 3️⃣ games. 5️⃣ goals.
🤙 One Sadio Mane 🤙 pic.twitter.com/BoeFVOM4Ox
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) March 17, 2019
There’s definitely evidence to back up the notion that exiting Europe would help too. Looking at Liverpool’s past six campaigns where they’ve reached at least the quarter-finals in Europe, they played a total of 33 league matches following a game in the round of 16 or later. Of those, they won 15, drawn nine and lost nine, taking an average of 1.64 points per game.
The main problems came, as you would expect, away from home. The Reds won 11 of their 15 league games at Anfield following European knock-out games, losing just once. Even that was against Chelsea in 2009/10, when most Kopites were just happy that the defeat stopped Manchester United from winning the league.
But on the road, Liverpool picked up just four wins from the 18 matches played directly after a European game. They added to that total by beating Fulham on Sunday, but history shows we shouldn’t have been surprised that they made hard work of it. What lies in wait for the rest of this season?
A home game with Chelsea sits between the two legs of Liverpool’s Champions League quarter-final, with Cardiff City away following the conclusion of the European tie. Should they reach the last four, then their semi-final matches will be followed by games at Newcastle and at home to Wolves – the last two matches of the league season, in other words.
The best single season comparison we have is 2008/09, as it’s the only vaguely recent season where Liverpool were competing for the title while also getting to the latter stages in Europe (or playing in Europe at all, come to think of it).
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An impressive win at the Bernabeu was followed by a far less impressive 2-0 defeat at Middlesbrough. Better was to come two weeks later, as the Reds put four goals past both Real Madrid and Manchester United.
The first leg of the quarter-final saw a heavy defeat to Chelsea, but Liverpool bounced back by beating Blackburn 4-0 at Anfield. Fernando Torres scored a fabulous goal and Sam Allardyce moaned about Rafa’s behaviour. Seriously, as a Liverpool fan, could you ask for anything more?
The second leg in the last eight and the subsequent league match followed the pattern of the previous round, in that Benitez’ boys scored four goals in both games once again.
Except that unfortunately they conceded four goals in both games too. The draw at Stamford Bridge ended the European run, and the crazy 4-4 match with Arsenal meant the Reds were level on points with United having played two games more.
But Liverpool are far from alone in struggling after massive games in Europe. Paul Tomkins recently wrote an article which examined the record of English sides in the league games which directly followed a Champions League knock-out match.
Tomkins found that in the period since 2003, no Premier League club has won all six league games following their matches in the three Champions League knock-out rounds, assuming they reached the semi-final.
From the 18 occasions an English side did reach the last four in the last 15 years, the best a team has done is to win five of the six league matches following their European games, and that has only been achieved five times.
It therefore seems likely Liverpool will drop further points should they continue to progress in Europe. It would be nice to think they used up a draw at Old Trafford following the match with Bayern at Anfield and could win the rest, but history suggests the odds are not in favour of that happening.
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Of course, the same stats suggest Manchester City are unlikely to win all of their remaining league games if they continue to progress in Europe too, so the weight of history needn’t all be negative from a Liverpool perspective.
The Reds might be 12 games from a league and Champions League double, or perhaps a handful of matches from having nothing shiny to show for their fabulous endeavours this season.
Whatever happens, the past suggests there will definitely be ups and downs along the way.
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Photo: PA Images
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