The last week arguably encompasses Liverpool’s season in microcosm, as Jurgen Klopp’s men were beaten 1-0 by struggling Nottingham Forest in the Premier League before thumping a strong Ajax side 3-0 in Amsterdam.
More specifically, the Reds have qualified comfortably for the UCL round of 16 with four wins in five matches, while their EPL struggles have left the side eight in the Premier League and 12 points of leaders Arsenal.
But why are the Reds performing better in Europe, and will the side target further Champions League success this season?
Is it a Matter of Competitiveness?
If we look closely at the last two results, there’s no doubt that the Reds’ side was stronger in Amsterdam.
Buoyed by the return of Darwin Nunez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and skipper Jordan Henderson, Liverpool looked more assured in possession and potent in attack, especially when compared with their toothless performance in Nottingham just days before.
This along isn’t necessary enough to explain the shift in gears, but perhaps it has more to do with the quality and intensity of the opposition in play.
For all Ajax’s technical ability and superior individuals, for example, the side lacked the pace and energy to really press the Reds or outrun them.
Conversely, a seemingly limited Forest side pressed and harried with immense hunger from a compact defensive block for the full 90 minutes, while countering at pace following turnovers.
Are Different Playing Styles a Factor?
Similarly, Forest’s decision to sit back and counter limited the central space for the Reds, who were unable to attack effectively in wide areas without Trent or Luis Diaz.
With the creative Thiago also absent from the middle of the park, Liverpool were limp in possession and unable to break through a massed defensive line.
In contrast, Ajax deployed their familiar, possession-based style of play, enabling the Reds to play on the break themselves and exploit the space in behind with the direct running of Nunez and fellow scorer Mohamed Salah.
Arguably, Liverpool are better playing on the break at present, as this enables them to cover for their defensive frailties while tapping into the pace and movement that exists in their frontline.
The Last Word
Of course, some may argue that Liverpool have simply benefitted from playing weaker sides in Ajax and Rangers during their last four UCL games, while noting that their only continental clash against high-quality opposition (Napoli) ended in a 4-1 reversal.
Even the bookies agree that the Reds are better in Europe, however, with the Reds priced at an average of 7/1 to lift a seventh UCL crown and a distant 33/1 to win this years’ Premier League (you can cash in your Hugestakes.com stake bonus code and wager on both of these outcomes if you like).
Ultimately, this is probably the result of all the factors referenced above, particularly the Reds’ penchant for playing on the counterattack at present and sheer intensity of opponents in the English top-flight.