OpinionJohn Aldridge

Aldo: Liverpool fans enjoying payback time for United

John AldridgeBy John Aldridge
Our man Aldo is hoping Manchester United hold on to LVG
Our man Aldo is hoping Manchester United hold on to LVG

LIVERPOOL fans had to put up with a hell of a lot of crap from that lot in Manchester in the first half of 2015 – well now it’s payback time.

United deserved to take Liverpool’s spot in the Champions League last season, because my old team were dreadful when it mattered most and didn’t deserve to finish in the top four.

To be fair, United barely merited a top-four finish either as they were not much better in Louis van Gaal’s first season at the club, but they were a step ahead in a race between two very average teams.

Well, United’s Champions League adventure has lasted as long as ours did last season and I make no excuses for saying a lot of Liverpool fans laughed their backsides off as LVG’s side crashed out of Europe’s elite competition last Tuesday.

I don’t have to think back long to remember the social media taunts flowing in my direction from United supporters suggesting I will need to keep Thursday nights free this year to watch Liverpool in the Europa League. Ha, ha, very funny.

Well what do you know? Just three months later and United have been dumped into the competition they were so keen to avoid, and you have to ask where this story is heading under their current management team.

Liverpool fans will be pleased if Van Gaal signs a new contract at United because he doesn’t seem to be taking the club anywhere fast, promoting his less than attractive brand of football. 

United have done well to remain in the mix at the top of the Premier League because they have not been playing well all season, but they were found out in the Champions League and it will be interesting to see how they react now.

Liverpool and Tottenham have shown how the Europa League can have a positive impact on a team if the competition is used in the right way.

Both those teams taking the competition seriously and securing top spots in their group this week confirmed as much.

They have each secured a seeding when the draw for the last-32 of the competition is made tomorrow and, while it is easy to knock the Europa League, the big prize means it is worth going for. 

A place in the Champions League will be handed to the winners of the competition and that may be the viable route back into the big time for United, Liverpool and Spurs.

Liverpool have had a different mindset in Europe since Jurgen Klopp took over as the club’s manager and I would not be surprised to see the German have a real go at winning the Europa League when knock-out stages kick-off.

He has used the competition to give a few of his squad players like Brad Smith, Kolo Toure, Divock Origi and Joe Allen games. 

It has also been a great platform to bring players back into the first team who are returning from injury, like Jordan Henderson, Jordan Rossiter, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, before the latter broke down once again. 

The competition has been useful and given the team a bit of confidence at the same time.

Liverpool have a realistic shot of achieving success in four competitions as they prepare to head into the hectic Christmas fixture programme – that’s a great position to be in when you consider how downbeat everyone at Anfield was not so long ago.

West Brom are next on the agenda at Anfield today and we all know what lies ahead in a game that may well be ugly and brutal to watch – Tony Pulis will set up his side not to concede and it will be up to Liverpool to find a way of breaking them down.

This is precisely the scenario that has caught the Reds out time and again in recent years and, if Klopp is to plot a route to the  top four this season, he needs to crack the code in games like this.

Liverpool have shown how good they can be when opponents give them the space they need to weave their attacking magic, but we saw again last weekend that they still struggle to overcome sides that are prepared to sit back and hit them on the break.

Newcastle worked hard, made life difficult for Liverpool and frustrated them into submission. Then they snatched a couple of goals and ran out comfortable winners.

It was a worrying performance in some respects and I looked at Roberto Firmino’s (right) display and questioned whether he really understood what it meant to play for Liverpool in the Premier League.

Despite the disappointment there were some plus points coming out of the Newcastle game and the defeat may not have been a bad thing because it slowed down the bandwagon of rising expectations around Klopp and his team.

I’m naturally pessimistic when it comes to Liverpool, yet I was buying into the theory that Liverpool could win the league this season when you saw them destroying Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton away from home. 

But every Liverpool fan appreciates that such lofty ambitions are probably misplaced in Klopp’s first season at the helm. 

Let’s focus on viable targets for this season, a top four finish and a good stab at winning a cup.

You never know, we might even get a chance to knock Manchester United out of the Europa League before this season is finished.

Now wouldn’t that be sweet!