Entertaining attack makes Liverpool serious threat in Champions League
Despite some now expected lapses at the back, Liverpool stormed into the Champions League group stages with a stunning display of attacking football that swept away Hoffenheim on Wednesday night.
The 4-2 scoreline, 6-3 on aggregate, was about what you'd expect from this Liverpool team. Jurgen Klopp's men are brilliant in attack but they will always give you a chance or two at the other end. This isn't always good for the nerves of supporters but it makes for great entertainment and the Champions League will certainly be enhanced by Liverpool's presence.
Despite having to play a qualifier to get there and only being in pot three, Liverpool aren't just there to make up the numbers. In fact, there's a strong argument to be made that the Merseysiders have more chance of winning this competition than they do their own domestic title.
If they can progress out of their group, the two-legged format in the knockout stage suits Liverpool well as it gives them a second bite at the cherry should they suffer one of their defensive horror shows. There are no second chances in the Premier League, only dropped points.
The Reds threw away two points at Watford after poor defending saw them concede three goals on opening day. Results such as that are costly when it comes to challenging domestically, but in Europe it would be a good result in both the group and knockout stages.
Then there's the Anfield factor. Followers of other clubs are no doubt sick of hearing about "the magic of Anfield" but the Reds have achieved so many remarkable results on home soil that nobody can dispute that it gives them an advantage few other teams have.
Anfield under the lights on a European night is like nowhere else and over the years the famous stadium has witnessed some incredible comebacks and triumphs against the odds. Liverpool's players gain strength from it, while opponents often wilt under the strain.
The list is a long one and stretches back over several decades. The managers change, the players change, football itself changes, the stadium has certainly changed and even the individuals in the crowd aren't the same. Yet that unique Anfield 'European night' has remained constant, even in this more sanitised modern era of football.
Without that special edge, there is no chance Liverpool would have been able to come back against Borussia Dortmund in a Europa League quarterfinal just two years ago. Trailing 3-1 and needing to score three goals in the final 25 minutes against vastly superior opposition, Liverpool somehow found a way to do it.
The Reds went all the way to the final that year as the Anfield crowd helped the players overcome Manchester United and Villarreal as well as Dortmund. All three away legs were drawn, all three home ones were won in a cauldron-like atmosphere. When the Reds faced Sevilla in the final, on neutral soil in Switzerland, they suffered the kind of second-half collapse that just wouldn't have happened in front of the Kop.
There are clearly a number of better sides than Liverpool in the Champions League but that means nothing. The better the opponent, the better Klopp's team performs and the longer the odds of victory, the louder Anfield becomes. The competition is made for them.
Of course the last time they qualified things did not turn out so well. In fact it was utterly embarrassing, as Brendan Rodgers' side -- still nursing the mother of all hangovers after missing out on the league title and then losing Luis Suarez -- won just one of six group games. Even then it needed a stoppage-time penalty from Steven Gerrard to overcome Ludogorets, a team nobody on Merseyside had even heard of before that night.
The Reds were humbled 3-0 by Real Madrid at Anfield and most disappointingly of all were held by FC Basel in their final group game, which meant the Swiss side qualified from the group in second place at Liverpool's expense. That season was an anomaly though and Liverpool are far better equipped to give a good account of themselves this time around.
Since Klopp arrived Liverpool have been brilliant when faced with top quality opposition. Against the teams they are expected to beat easily they have been much more erratic, but the good news is that you don't tend to get too many so called "easy games" in Europe's top competition, so again, this should suit Liverpool.
Juventus or Atletico Madrid would be a tough matchup because of their defensive strength and organisation, but if Liverpool were to meet Barcelona at some stage that should hold no fear for them. In fact, they would surely relish it. Liverpool's high-tempo style of play could give Barca nightmares, plus there's the added spice the Catalan's unseemly pursuit of Philippe Coutinho this summer has brought to a rivalry in which Liverpool have usually had the upper hand.
Whoever Liverpool come against though, if they can field their strongest lineup (specifically their frighteningly good front three) they will be a match for anybody, and that, combined with the Anfield factor, makes them one of the names most clubs will want to avoid when the draw is made on Thursday afternoon.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.