Why Liverpool will be the team to fear in Champions League - if they get one key area of their side right
Fox-in-the-box Diogo can inspire euro triumph
LIVERPOOL will be the team everyone left in the Champions League will fear - IF they get one key area of their side right in the next few months.
As I watched Jurgen Klopp's side labour to a 2-0 win against a poor Leicester City side on Thursday night, it was a reminder that this team are only half the force they can be when their front line is disrupted.
As we saw last season, when Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino lost their way badly in front of goal, Liverpool don't have a Plan B to win matches under Klopp (inset with Salah).
They achieve success by beating the opposition playing their own game , and when Salah and Mané are firing that generally works, but more is needed sometimes - that's where Diogo Jota comes in.
Having a fox-in-the-box poacher, who snaps up half-chances, offers a fresh dimension - I like the early look of new signing Luis Diaz too.
So the task for Klopp now is to find the balance in that forward line - and if he gets it right, this could be a season to remember.
Liverpool developed a real aura that intimidated the opposition as they won the 2019 Champions League, and backed it up by winning the Premier League a year later.
That was all based around their brilliant attacking players.
With Salah and Mané back from African Cup of Nations duty, and available to play against Burnley today, the moment has come for Liverpool to move up through the gears and get ready for what is to come.
The League Cup final against Chelsea is on the horizon, Liverpool are in a good place to have a real go at winning the FA Cup for the first time in 16 years - and then the Champions League is the big prize they can target.
Winning all three competitions would represent a fantastic season, even if Manchester City do what I expect them to do, and wrap up the Premier League title.
Yet for Klopp to have any chance of a treble, he needs to get his forward line working in unison - and that means getting Salah, Jota and Mané firing on all cylinders.
Beating Burnley would keep their faint Premier League hopes alive, yet this game at Turf Moor is also a chance to get the engines firing ahead of the trip to face Inter Milan on Wednesday.
The tie at the San Siro is as tough as Liverpool could have got in the draw. The Italian champions are in title contention once again this season and a real threat on home soil.
When you consider that Liverpool were the only team to go through the group stages of the Champions League winning every match, they deserved better than this in the last 16.
But it seems that City are the only team that gets easy draws in cup competitions. So the rest have to get on with it!
One big cloud hanging over this tie is the end of the away-goals rule, which has been such a key feature of European competitions for as long as we can remember.
The rule was brought in to stop teams sitting back away from home and playing for 0-0 draws, and it wouldn't surprise me if that starts happening again now.
Home advantage is still significant - and that is especially true for Liverpool.
Klopp's side tend to score goals wherever they play, with their attacking brand of football based around scoring more than the opposition.
That has tended to pay off in the Champions League down the years, especially when they have the second leg under the lights at Anfield.
If the away goals rule was in place, a score draw at the San Siro would be a good result for Liverpool, but now that mindset has gone.
It comes down to a straight contest over two legs - and if they don't score a goal in Italy, the key will be keeping a clean sheet. Inter would not fancy their chances of winning at Anfield and history confirms very few teams do that on Champions League nights.
So they will need to press for a win on home soil and, if they get through this tie, Liverpool will have a real chance of winning the Champions League.
City are listed as the bookies' Champions League favourites, but Pep Guardiola's side bottle it every year when it gets to the latter stages - and they will probably flop again when the pressure is applied.
Chelsea are a team to watch as they look to defend the trophy they won last year, but we can write off Manchester United as no-hopers - given their form of late.
After that, you are looking at Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich as contenders.
You have to think Spanish giants Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will not be the forces they once were, this season.
It could be an all-English final for a second year in succession - and I suspect none of the teams left in the competition will fancy a Champions League night on Merseyside.
The one big factor Liverpool have in their favour this season compared to last is the presence of their fans for home matches.
Because we have seen time and again that even the giants of the game wilt when the heat is on them at Anfield.
Those Liverpool supporters send a shiver down the spines of any opposing player and, unless Inter can take a big first leg lead next week, I'd back Klopp's side to get through.
Then in the quarter-finals and beyond, it all comes down to the boys with the X Factor standing up and delivering when it matters most.
In the year when Liverpool last won the Champions League, no team in Europe could deal with Salah, Mané and Firmino in full cry.
While they have occasionally reached those peaks this season, Liverpool will need to go goal crazy again if this season is to finish on a high.
It is up to Klopp to get the players into a position to make that happen.
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