LONDON (AFP) – Fuelled by Mohamed Salah’s astonishing feats and inspired by Jurgen Klopp’s tactical mastery, Liverpool are ready to launch a new golden era after sealing their return to the Champions League final.
For the first time in 11 years, Liverpool have reached the showpiece of Europe’s elite club competition as a dramatic 4-2 defeat against Roma in Wednesday’s semi-final second leg clinched an incredible 7-6 aggregate success.
Rome was the perfect setting for Liverpool’s return to splendour after the Eternal City played host to the club’s 1977 and 1984 European Cup triumphs.
If Liverpool beat holders Real Madrid in the final in Kiev on May 26, they will celebrate the first silverware of Jurgen Klopp’s three-year reign on the grandest stage of all.
For Klopp, getting his hands on the Champions League trophy would be concrete proof his Red revolution has been worth all the blood, sweat and tears.
And it would be fitting for the 50-year-old German to enjoy a breakthrough moment at the same age as the godfather of the modern Liverpool.
Bill Shankly was also 50 when the first truly iconic manager in Liverpool’s illustrious history served notice he had created a burgeoning dynasty on Merseyside.
Under the Scottish manager, Liverpool became English champions in 1964 after a 17-year gap.
Liverpool won the title three times under Shankly and also collected two FA Cups and a UEFA Cup – the club’s first European trophy – as his magnetic personality and fierce will to win fulfilled his dream of turning the club into “a bastion of invincibility”.
Building on the foundations put in place by Shankly, Liverpool went on to dominate Europe for the next decade.
The thought of emulating that generational success at such a historic club lured Klopp – who possesses the same charismatic character as Shankly – to follow in his footsteps at Liverpool in 2015. Winning Liverpool’s sixth European Cup would rank Klopp alongside Anfield immortals Shankly, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish.
Ray Clemence, the legendary Liverpool goalkeeper who played under Shankly, sees some uncanny similarities between Klopp and his former boss.
“I thought Shankly was a one-off, but then I’d have to say that Klopp is the nearest thing,” Clemence said.
“The relationship Klopp has with the players and fans, it is exactly what Shankly had.
“He pulled the club together so it was one strong unit and Klopp has revived that.”
Regardless of whether he leaves the Ukraine empty-handed, Klopp knows this season has confirmed Liverpool’s emergence as genuine contenders at last.
Liverpool have gone 28 years without winning the English title, a barren run that has often seen them written off as a faded force rendered obsolete by the vast wealth of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea.
When Liverpool last won the Champions League in 2005, their miraculous comeback from three goals down in the final against AC Milan obscured the pedestrian nature of Rafael Benitez’s side.
Aside from Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Jamie Carragher, the heroes of Istanbul were largely inconsistent journeymen. Liverpool finished a whopping 37 points behind Premier League champions Chelsea that year.
Gerrard, who captained Liverpool to that 2005 victory, said Klopp has made the difference: “This manager has got them flying, if they go one step further this could be the start of something special. I think they’re on the verge of something really good.”
Klopp’s men might be 21 points adrift of Manchester City this season but the gap between third-placed Liverpool and the champions appears far less daunting than it did 13 years ago.
Liverpool are one of only two teams to inflict a league defeat on City this season, a 4-3 victory at Anfield that saw Pep Guardiola’s defence torn apart by the rampant Reds.
Even more encouragingly, Liverpool overwhelmed City in the Champions League quarter-finals, blitzing them 3-0 at Anfield and then giving a masterclass in game management to take the second leg 2-1.
With 43 goals and 15 assists in 49 appearances in all competitions, Egypt winger Salah has been the driving force behind Liverpool’s renaissance.
Ditched by Chelsea after struggling in his first spell in English football, Salah has been reborn under Klopp since joining from Roma for $46 million last year.
The German has astutely deployed the majestic 25-year-old in a role that allows him to do damage from both wide and central areas as part of a three-pronged attack alongside Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
Crucially, Klopp’s decision to reinvest the cash from Philippe Coutinho’s transfer to Barcelona on powerful centre-back Virgil van Dijk has added much-needed solidity to Liverpool’s defence.
Klopp has already proved he can overthrow an established superpower after leading Borussia Dortmund to the Bundesliga title despite the constant threat from Bayern Munich.
Restoring his team’s domestic supremacy is next season’s target but for now Klopp, Salah and the rest of the Liverpool heroes can dream of reigning supreme in Europe.