Dave Tindall reflects on the last week being a Liverpool fan and tells us to forget the ridiculous derby draw, and focus on Europe.
What a golden chance we have to progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League after being paired with Porto in the last 16.
Just to be in the draw for the knockout phase felt good and my stomach was spinning like Mo Salah on the edge of the Everton box as the balls were drawn.
It was either going to be a tough glamour tie against Juventus, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid or one with a clearer path to the last eight – Basel, Porto or Shakhtar.
Juventus and Basel came and went to keep the 50:50 balance and then after Porto were pulled, Reds legend Xabi Alonso – scorer of our third goal in Istanbul on that unforgettable night in 2005 – opened the next little Champions League ball to reveal ‘Liverpool’.
So what of our opponents?
A pleasing little bit of history is that Porto lifted the European Cup the year before we did, a certain Jose Mourinho guiding them to victory in the 2004 final against Monaco.
More recently, we played Porto in the group stages in 2007/8.
In the first match in Portugal, a Dirk Kuyt strike in the 17th minute helped us to a 1-1 draw after they’d scored an early penalty.
At Anfield, Lisandro Lopez wiped out an early Fernando Torres strike but late goals from Torres (78), Steven Gerrard (84) and Peter Crouch (88) made it another memorable night, kept our hopes of qualification alive and we eventually made it to the semis.
They were heady days under Rafa. Unbelievable Champions League winners in 2005, runners-up in 2007, semi-finalists in 2008 and quarter-finalists in 2009. Such was that record that following a 1-0 away win at Real Madrid in 2009, we were officially ranked the top club in Europe (a points system based on results over a five-year span in the Champions League).
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Magical nights at are back
And those magical European nights are back again.
I was lucky enough to experience it first-hand last Wednesday after getting a ticket to the Spartak Moscow game.
Two weeks earlier, it looked as if I’d be watching a dead rubber. We were 3-0 up away to Sevilla, all set to top the group with a game to spare and a 5-0 thumping looked on the cards. And then we suffered that horrible second-half collapse and drew 3-3.
When the injury-time equaliser went in, I was furious. But in the cooling down period, I recalled that it meant there was now something on the Spartak match.
How we’d not beaten them in the first match in Russia was unexplainable (as are many of the matches we don’t win; see Everton for latest example) so there weren’t any pre-match nerves.
Or was that because I was still running through the streets of Anfield two minutes before kick-off? A nightmare journey from Leeds had somehow taken four hours (crashes, roadworks) instead of one-and-a-half so the game was already underway when I ran up the stairs inside the stadium.
I was miffed I hadn’t seen the pomp and ceremony beforehand but I witnessed something far more pleasurable when finally popping my head out into the arena. Yes, the very first thing to flash through my eyes was the sight of Mo Salah taking a tumble in the box and the referee, prompting a massive roar, pointing to the spot.
I ran to my seat, muttered a series of “cheers” as fellow fans stood up to let me in and, with sweat pouring off my head still (all that running rather than nerves), celebrated Philippe Coutinho stroking home the penalty.
Fifteen minutes in and we were 3-0 up. The interplay between the Fab Four (Coutinho, Firmino, Salah and Mane) was both magical and devastatingly ruthless. Some of the most breathtaking combinations of attacking play I’ve ever seen.
What an utter treat to be a Liverpool fan on a night like this. The quartet eventually combined for all seven goals and it could have been more.
Two matches into the group stage, we were making a bit of a meal of it after not cashing in on our obvious dominance in both the 2-2 draw with Sevilla and 1-1 draw at Spartak.
There were even rumblings amongst the pessimists that we might not get out of the group. How did LFC respond? By scoring 20 goals in the final four group matches. Weak rivals or not, that is incredible. Two 7-0 wins! Who does that?
Add in the qualifier against Hoffenheim (currently sixth in the Bundesliga after their fourth place last season) and we’ve smashed in 29 goals in eight European games this season. That really is phenomenal. Drink it in Liverpool fans.
By contrast, imagine if you’re Porto. Only one team, Sevilla, let in more goals in the group stages and that was basically down to us as we bagged five in two games against the Spaniards.
Porto conceded 10, giving up three at home to group winners Besiktas and also three in a loss at third-placed Leipzig.
Defending is a problem for them so, beyond possibly PSG, we are just about the last team they wanted to draw.
From our point of view, Porto look ideal opponents. They bag their fair share but at a cost. Everything suggests we’ll simply outscore them.
The only reservation is that I wish we were playing them now with all our striking talent fit, healthy and in form. If we were, no contest in my eyes.
Coutinho to bow out on a high?
A lot can happen between now and February though and that includes the possibility of Coutinho not being with us anymore. But, come on Phil. Aren’t you thinking after today’s draw that there’s a chance you could go all the way in a red Liverpool shirt and bow out on a high?
One final good omen to mention is that the only other time we played Porto in Europe was in 2001. We won that two-legged quarter-final tie 2-0 on aggregate and just over two months later were lifting the UEFA Cup trophy. Where? In Jurgen Klopp’s former stomping ground, the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund.
This season’s Champions League final in Kiev is a long way away in every sense.
But if you can’t get ahead of yourself and dream after watching us so far in Europe this season, you never can!