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Q & A with Liverpool Offside: Champions League Edition!

Unai Emery and Villarreal seek to upset the Premier League giants.

Liverpool v Everton - Premier League Photo by Rich Linley - CameraSport via Getty Images

I am very happy to present some Q & A from Mark Kastner of our sister site The Liverpool Offside, we’ll be returning the favor so keep an eye on their homepage to see me staunchly defending Villarreal and their quality. Liverpool is chasing four major trophies in one season, a feat that would put them amongst the greatest sides in football history, and we hope to spoil their heady aspirations.

How heavy does the possibility of a ‘quadruple’ weigh on this Liverpool side and for fans of the club?

A lot.

I think that Liverpool, more so than any other club in England, thrives on pressure. It seems like it’s just sort of in our DNA as a club, and that’s especially true since Jurgen Klopp has been manager. The first two times Liverpool qualified for the Champions League, they needed to win on the last day of the season and did so. The year that Liverpool won the Champions League, they had that comeback against Barcelona while also taking Manchester City to the wire in the league. The season after that they won 26 of their first 27 league matches before Covid hit. Even accounting for last season with the horrific injury crisis, it seems like Klopp has been building towards making his Liverpool team one of the all time immortal sides in football history. The elusive quadruple would certainly achieve that goal.

I still don’t really know how to think about it, in all honesty. It feels heavy and moody in concept, but it feels like bliss to support this team week in and week out. I guess we’ll see what happens.

I’ve noticed that in recent games the main possible changes in Liverpool’s starting lineup are Klopp’s choice between either Diaz and Jota up front and his choice between Henderson and Keita in midfield. What do each of these differences do to the makeup of Liverpool on the pitch and which pair do you think will start against Villarreal?

I’ll start with the front line and then talk about the midfield. So first, I’ve never seen a winter signing at Liverpool hit the ground running like Luis Diaz has. He’s the perfect fit for Klopp and he plays football with the joy and wonder of a child. It’s a lot of fun to watch. He’s a constant threat and another variable teams need to account for. Diogo Jota is also quite good and especially good at the main thing: putting the ball into the net. These two options in the lineup are made possible because Sadio Mane has transformed his game in the last two months into being a world class center forward.

As for the midfield, the choice between Henderson and Keita has seemingly been made based on keeping the captain’s legs fresh more so than anything else. The caveat here is that Naby Keita has played some of his best football for Liverpool this season against European opposition. He was genuinely the best Liverpool player against Benfica across both legs. He has more to offer offensively than Jordan Henderson does, but the Liverpool captain has a better understanding of the system and unlocks Trent Alexander-Arnold’s abilities much better.

With Jota and Keita having started the derby on Sunday, I suspect we’ll see Henderson and Diaz start on Wednesday.

Liverpool’s battle with Manchester City has been going on for years now, and since the close of the January window it’s actually been Newcastle who have had the second best points return in the Premier League (having played a couple more matches than you guys and City). How long can Liverpool continue to contend in the face of this sort of state funded ownership model, does something need to be done to reign in this sort of model, and if so, what?

I think if I had the best and fullest answer to this question, I’d probably be a much richer man than I am today! But, this sort of struggle between “traditionally” owned clubs and state-backed ownership groups is seemingly coming to a head with the Premier League. I am far from Fenway Sports Group’s biggest fan, especially given their involvement with the Super League and other missteps, but they’ve taken a club that was on the brink of administration and turned it into one of the best clubs in the world — on and off the pitch.

I would really like to see something done at corporate or governmental level to prevent countries from buying clubs, but it does sort of feel like that horse has bolted from the barn. I don’t know what the future looks like.

What would be the reaction of Liverpool supporters if the club fails to win this tie? Would there be significant anger or looking to find fault over losing to what’s perceived as an weaker opponent or would they take it more in stride?

I think it matters how something happens more than anything else. If Liverpool showed up and completely s**** the bed against Villareal, I think most people would be upset and bewildered. It’d be such an uncharacteristic event that I think the vibes would be quite bad.

We don’t have to look very far into our past to see a similar event happen. Liverpool got knocked out by Atletico Madrid in 2020 under really bizarre circumstances. Liverpool went to extra time against Atletico and lost because of a backup goalkeeper making some horrendous mistakes. Then, a week later, the entire world shutdown because of a global pandemic. It’s still seen as a missed opportunity, but most fans just sort of chalk that one up to crazy happenstance. I suppose Liverpool winning their first league title in 30 years helps with some sore spots.

Predictions for this tie?

A lot of folks seem to think we’ll see a repeat of the Liverpool-Benfica tie. Where Liverpool had effectively won the tie in the first half of the first leg. I’m not sure I really see Villareal capitulating like that. I still expect Liverpool to advance to the Final, but I think it’ll be a hard fought tie.

Thanks again to Mark for giving us his thoughts, and best of luck to Liverpool in the Premier League and FA Cup title chases! A domestic treble and never forgetting Unai Emery would still be a remarkable season.