Liverpool will not ‘throw’ the Champions League, but Bayern can do them a favour
Winning the Premier League and Champions League has proven difficult in recent years, but while there is a clear priority for Liverpool, they should know better than to shun their European pursuit... writes Michael Hincks.
Liverpool and Bayern Munich are locked at goalless in their Champions League last-16 tie going into next week’s return leg in Germany, and both simultaneously locked in domestic title races which look set to go down to the wire.
Bayern are only behind Borussia Dortmund on goal difference in the Bundesliga with 10 games to go, but their recent domestic success – having won six league titles in a row – means there has been no talk of ‘throwing’ the Champions League in Munich.
However, for Liverpool, who are now one point behind Manchester City with 10 games left, their 29-year wait for a league title has led pundit Gary Neville to suggest they could perhaps do without the additional pressure of European football.
The idea of ‘throwing’ any tournament brings with it many complications, but first and foremost there is the fact Bayern will more than have their own say in next Wednesday’s fixture.
Having lost just one match at the Allianz Arena all season, it would be no failure for Liverpool, and certainly no throwing in of the towel, if they exited the tournament at the last-16 stage.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson answered “both” when asked if the club would rather win the Premier League or Champions League, and there is little doubt the midfielder will stress this in the coming week, even if recent history does suggest Premier League glory is accompanied by an early European exit.
Premier League winners/runners-up vs Champions League run
- 2017/18: Manchester City – Quarter-finals
- 2016/17: Chelsea – N/A
- 2015/16: Leicester – N/A
- 2014/15: Chelsea – Last 16
- 2013/14: Manchester City – Last 16
- 2012/13: Manchester United – Last 16
- 2011/12: Manchester City – Group stage (Europa League last 16)
- 2010/11: Manchester United – Runners-up
It could be argued until the cows come home whether it is worth exiting one competition to focus on another. Pep Guardiola is intent on his Manchester City side fighting on all fronts this season, with the argument that maintaining a winning mentality outweighs the need for fresh legs as the campaign progresses.
Jurgen Klopp, meanwhile, made his approach clear with the second-string side named in Liverpool’s FA Cup defeat to Wolves back in January, but the German should be wise enough to avoid repeating that mistake in Europe, as it becomes a dangerous game if you start trying to pick and choose the matches you want to win or lose.
Jürgen Klopp and Roberto Firmino (FC Liverpool)Getty Images
Furthermore, a congested fixture list did not harm the treble-winning sides of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan in recent years, but the fact it has not been done in England since 1999 means you could argue the demands of the Premier League makes it an entirely different struggle for English sides.
The ability to sustain a domestic and European charge only further elevates the greatness of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
Ferguson’s 2010/11 Premier League-winning side were the last English team to win the title and venture beyond the Champions League quarter-finals – losing to Barcelona in the final – while few will need reminding they won both tournaments in 2007/08, and lifted both as well as the FA Cup in 1999.
Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United after winning the 2010-11 Premier LeagueReuters
This is the type of history Guardiola is evidently chasing at City, but it could be argued he has the squad to do so, while Liverpool are better off sustaining just the one challenge.
The jury’s out, and it all comes down to priorities. Liverpool’s are clear, and there will be few tears shed in Merseyside if they are left in just one competition come next week.