Liverpool have shown their progress in the league. Now it's time to show PSG
Anfield defines itself by European adventures. Excitement fizzes around the old stadium on Champions League nights in September. Who knows where the journey will end? Jurgen Klopp has very real hopes that the road will lead to the final in the Wanda in Madrid in May.
The opening game of the continent's most prestigious competition is thrilling enough. Paris Saint-Germain, led by Neymar, are in town. Liverpool are authentic European royalty with their haul of five European cups. PSG are the tournament's nouveau riche, a club with unrealised ambitions and the wealth to achieve their aims. Klopp's team, fresh from an appearance in the Champions League final in May, will be confident that they can beat PSG and emerge from a group that also contains Napoli and Red Star Belgrade.
The Liverpool manager is approaching his third anniversary on Merseyside and has conducted a major overhaul of the team since taking over. The 51-year-old's first game in charge in 2015 was a 0-0 draw away to Tottenham Hotspur. Of that team, only James Milner played in the 2-1 victory over Spurs at Wembley. Mauricio Pochettino's side, by contrast, lined up with six of the same players as three years ago. If Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris were fit, it would have been eight. This gives a sense of the work Klopp needed to do to turn Liverpool into contenders.
Fenway Sports Group, the club's owners, lost patience with Brendan Rodgers when he claimed, before a derby match against Everton, that the team needed to begin a three-year rebuilding cycle. They sacked him within an hour of the 1-1 draw at Goodison. Upon taking over, Klopp assured the owners that the squad was good enough to win trophies, though it proved to be an over-optimistic assessment. Players like Simon Mignolet, Mamadou Sakho, Alberto Moreno and Emre Can were supposed to be the future for Liverpool, but Rodgers was right. There was no quick fix. Klopp's biggest achievement has been to revamp the team in his own image and it has taken almost three years.
FSG, who took over at Anfield eight years ago, believed that they could make Liverpool a Premier League and European power again by being smarter in the transfer market than their rivals. The aim was to recruit young players with potential and develop them into world-class talents without spending huge fees. The policy has had its successes over the years: Michael Edwards, the sporting director who is a significant influence on bringing in players, was keen to buy Mohamed Salah in 2014 when the Egypt international went to Chelsea instead. He finally got his man last year, and for the bargain price of £37 million. For every Salah or Roberto Firmino, though, there was a Lazar Markovic or Divock Origi. They also struggled to find capable defenders.
A key change of thinking, instigated by Klopp, has occurred over the past year. Liverpool have reached the conclusion that on occasion they need to purchase players of proven quality even if it means spending big money. The £75m acquisition of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton in January was the catalyst for the run to the Champions League final in Kiev.
The centre-back isn't just an upgrade in defence, either. His influence has made a big difference to the performances of Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. Tottenham shredded the Liverpool defence at Wembley 11 months ago, routing Klopp's side 4-1. Gomez was the only one of the back four from the defeat to play at Wembley on Saturday, but this time around Harry Kane was barely given a touch in the Liverpool area.
There has been an acceptance at Anfield that some problems are best solved with money. Liverpool ended five years of goalkeeping insecurity with the £67m purchase of Alisson Becker from Roma. The 25-year-old provides as extra level of confidence for the team and while price seemed a little excessive for a goalkeeper -- it was briefly a world-record fee until Chelsea paid Athletic Bilbao £71m for Kepa Arrizabalaga -- but cutting corners in this department cost Liverpool dearly in recent seasons. Loris Karius's nightmare in Kiev alone will haunt the club for a long time.
Klopp's willingness to spend £52.75m on Naby Keita, even waiting a season until RB Leipzig were prepared to let the midfielder leave, was important too as his arrival gave the team a real spine.
The rebuilding process has picked up pace this year. The club will still look to buy young, undervalued talent with scope to develop, but under Klopp there is a clear understanding that it is sometimes necessary to purchase ready-made players who can improve the team immediately. After many seasons of seemingly cutting corners, Liverpool are now prepared to pay for quality.
Anfield will be agog with anticipation against PSG. Last season's Champions League campaign was a joyous surprise, but expectations are now much higher. Klopp has a team that can put pressure on Manchester City in the Premier League title race and worry even the best European sides. Money, as well as good management, has been the key to this revival.
Their five-game winning start to the league season has been impressive, too. Liverpool have not reached the heights of their free-scoring performances in the spring, but there is a grittier feel to the side. They do not have to be at their best to win.
A year ago, Neymar and Kylian Nbappe might have enjoyed their visit to Anfield. Now, they can expect a difficult night.
Liverpool have found the right balance in the transfer market. They may never have the money available to PSG, but Klopp knows when to spend big and when to spend clever. No team in Europe will relish a trip to Anfield this season.