Liverpool are back in the Europa League for the first time in eight seasons, and Jurgen Klopp has cited one big difference between now and when he guided the Reds to the final of the tournament in 2016.
That was his first campaign at Anfield, having taken charge the previous October; and while the German led us all the way to the decider in Basel, he feels that the current crop are ‘better prepared’ for the competition than the team he inherited from Brendan Rodgers.
Speaking to the media ahead of tomorrow’s opening group match against LASK in Austria (via Liverpool Echo), the 56-year-old said: “My first year I thought the Europa League was too much for us until the final because we had to play almost every day.
“We played Kazan, trying to play a team somehow. Sion…I am sure it was a frozen pitch, so I hope [this season] is not like that to be honest. It was a different squad, we were not ready but we somehow came through. In the quarter and semi-finals we played well but until then I don’t think we were exceptional.
“It’s a different team, we’re better prepared it doesn’t mean we will be in the final. We enjoy it more than last time because we had no clue what to expect.”
One notable difference between this Europa League group and the one Liverpool had in 2015, and Klopp alluded to it, is that the travel aspect should be much easier this time around.
Back then we had to travel to Russia to face Rubin Kazan and also played in Switzerland in the depths of December, whereas the itinerary of Austria, France and Belgium over the next three months seems considerably less taxing.
Also, given the length of time between then and now, Joe Gomez is the only survivor from our last Europa League campaign who’s still at the club, and Klopp takes a far stronger squad into this autumn’s group than the one he had eight years ago.
If Liverpool’s attitude is right, they should negotiate LASK, Union Saint-Gilloise and Toulouse without too much difficulty, but we can expect very stern tests in the knockout rounds if – as seems likely – we make it that far.
Being in Europe but not in the Champions League might be a novelty for most of the current Reds squad, but it’s important that they embrace the different challenge and seek to go one better than the class of 2015/16, who lost in the final to Sevilla. They’re good enough to go the distance.