As Paris Saint-Germain raced to a 2-1 Champions League at the Parc des Princes, I couldn’t help but imagine what would be should Liverpool fail to make it out of the group – an increasing possibility.
The last time Liverpool failed to progress from the group stage was in December 2014, 10 months before the energetic German tactician joined a clearly declining side who couldn’t put together two good seasons.
On that night, a 1-1 draw to Swiss champions Basel condemned Brendan Rodgers’ side to third place in the group and an entry into the Europa League.
Rickie Lambert, currently without a club, led Liverpool’s attack that night. Other players on show that night included the recently-retired Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson. Of the side held by Basel, only Jordan Henderson, Deja Lovren, Adam Lallana and Simon Mignolet are still at the club.
Liverpool may have been drawn in arguably the toughest group of this season’s Champions League, but the general opinion is that the Reds have a squad big enough and loaded with quality depth to compete on multiple fronts like they did last year with an even smaller squad. The return of Daniel Sturridge and the subsequent additions of Naby Keita, Allison Becker and Xerdan Shaqiri shows the willingness of the club to back Jurgen Klopp who has, up till now, consistently improved the team.
Despite having two final losses on his resume, Jurgen Klopp has never been one to fade out of this competition this early in the season but his cause isn’t helped by consecutive defeats to Red Star Belgrade and PSG.
Liverpool will head into the final group game as though it is literally the final. Only a win against Napoli at Anfield will do, any other result will send last season’s finalists out of the prestigious competition. On the flip side, Napoli will be knocked out if they lose at Anfield also.
In the reverse fixture, Klopp was out-thinkered by his opposite number Carlo Ancelotti. Bizarrely, Klopp bore a defeated demeanour even before Lorenzo Insigne scored what turned out to be the winner. The final score may have been 1-0 on the day, but Liverpool were no match for Napoli at any point in that game.
An early exit will be an indictment of everything Klopp has built at Liverpool in three-and-half years, an irreparable damage that two European final appearances cannot atone for, and it will come down to an unforgivable defeat in Serbia.
Klopp is a master of big games, and mother fate has presented the man with his favourite kind game to save himself from the claws of defeat. Only a win will do.