Liverpool return to the scenes of arguably their greatest ever European triumph when the visit the Ataturk Stadium for the second leg of their Europa League Round of 32 match with Turkish side Besiktas tomorrow, but they’ll find the atmosphere quite a bit different from that famous night back in 2005.
If there was ever an imposing set of supporters to come up against, those of the Black Eagles certainly rank near the top with the deafening atmosphere and the impressive display of flares and pyro making it a bit more than uncomfortable for any team squaring off with them. The Reds carry a slender lead from the first leg when Mario Balotelli’s penalty broke the deadlock late in the game, but any suggestion that this tie is done and dusted is pre-mature at best.
Despite being in an excellent run of form, Liverpool are still playing catch-up in the race for Champions League football — now, at the risk of sounding like one of the dozen broken records out there, this makes the match against Southampton on Sunday crucial to our chances of finishing in the top four.
While we may be able to sneak in to Europe’s most prestigious club competition through the back-door if we win the Europa League, that remains an option that we don’t want to rely upon. Securing a trophy and another season under the bright lights was always the aim, but you’d do well to find a Kopite that doesn’t want to see us gate-crash our way up the table, leaving a trail of battered bodies and busted nets in our wake.
The Europa League will always be the Champions League strange little brother, but there’s no question that clubs will be paying the second tier competition a lot more heed with UEFA throwing in a twist and upping the stakes for the winner. Liverpool, in particular, won’t be looking at it as a nuisance any more — well, not as much anyway.
The Reds are playing catch up in the Premier League table following their slow start to the season with qualification for Europe’s most prestigious cup competition anything but a forgone conclusion. A trophy and securing Champions League football for the second year in a row has always been the aim for the season and in the Europa League they have the strange opportunity to bag both at the same time. It’s a long road to Warsaw though and it’ll be paved with clubs that are thinking the exact same way — starting, of course, with Turkish side Besiktas.
Coming off the back of a morale boosting win over Tottenham Hotspur midweek, you’d think that Liverpool would be going into their FA Cup fifth round meeting with Crystal Palace the clear favorites to come out the other end, but that might not be the case.
The Anfield outfits fine run of form — in which they’ve suffered only a single loss since the middle of December — may have those of us Stateside looking around for the best sportsbook for US players, but as of late Liverpool’s history at Selhurst Park hasn’t exactly been promising. The Reds famously gave up a commanding three goal lead last season as their title ambitions came to a crashing halt and, when presented with an opportunity for revenge earlier in the year, they bowed out tamely as the Eagles ran out 3-1 winners on the day.
Liverpool will have no better chance to close the gap on fellow Champions League chasers Tottenham Hotspur than when the two sides face-off tomorrow under the bright lights of Anfield.
After both sides shook off their shaky early season form, they’ve now very much hit their stride and conversations about assaulting the continent next season sound more realistic than ever before. Holding a four point lead over their hosts going into this one, Spurs — who have found trips to Merseyside bothersome as of late — will likely be content to snag a point for their troubles, though three is always a better return. The Reds, on the other hand, don’t exactly have that luxury and will need to get the full bang for their buck if they want to keep pace in a race that’s not about to get any easier.