Whatever the name of the competition, the European Cup, or the UEFA Champions League, it seems to go hand in hand with the history of Liverpool Football Club. They’ve reached the semi-finals nine times, reached the final seven times and lifted the famous trophy five times. Their pedigree in the competition has left arguably the greatest club manager of them all, Sir Alex Ferguson scratching his head and looking on enviously at his great rivals from along the East Lancashire Road, which separates the two great English footballing cities of Liverpool and Manchester.
In contrast, the Red Devils have reached the semi-finals 11 times, but only progressed to the finals on four occasions, winning three of them. Much has been written about Liverpool’s self-belief when it comes to the competition, the ability of the Anfield crowd to lift the team on European nights and the ability of their key players to come to the fore when it matters most. So, whereas Fiorentina and Lyon are currently likely to qualify from Group E, one can never write off Rafael Benitez and his men. AC Milan did that in the 2005 final – and were left open mouthed as the English giants battled back from three goals down to tie 3-3 and eventually win the game on penalties.
The odds seem to be stacked against the Merseysiders. La Viola, who have been impressive this season, can secure qualification by beating already-qualified Lyon at home. If they draw and Liverpool win at Debrecen, then the Reds must beat the Italians by three clear goals at Anfield to progress to the knockout stage. It is the first time that qualification has been beyond Liverpool’s control under their Spanish manager Rafael Benitez, who readily admits that he is seeking a ‘miracle’ over the next two matchdays.
"It will be difficult to get through,” said Benitez. “I have said before that it will be a miracle if we do, but it depends on the other teams and if we do our job. We have to win and see what happens in the other games. If we can play against Fiorentina at Anfield with a chance to get through then it would be fantastic. The last time we qualified was amazing and it will be the same if we can do it again. The last time we had to win three games and we did it in a good way. If we do it now it will be more or less the same achievement."
However, should Lyon fail to take any points from their meeting with Fiorentina, Liverpool will be out of Europe’s most prestigious club competition, regardless of their result in Hungary. They will consequently be forced to turn their attention to the UEFA Europa League as well as seeking to improve their position in the Premier League, which currently sees them 13 points behind Chelsea with over a third of the season already gone.
“If we don’t make it through, then we have to accept it and move on,” said Liverpool vice-captain Jamie Carragher. “Stevie Gerrard and myself won what was the UEFA Cup back in 2001 and it was a great moment. It is still a chance to win silverware [this season] and there are some great teams in that competition. Benfica looked really strong against Everton, and Valencia are in it too. Obviously, we are all still hoping we are in the Champions League come Tuesday night.
“The hardest thing is our destiny isn’t in our own hands. When we have been in situations like this before, we have been able to sort it out ourselves. We have to concentrate on our own game and hopefully things will go our way. We have to look after ourselves and get the three points. We just have to concentrate on what we can affect and make sure we do our job. Nobody is thinking about the other game yet because we have to make sure we win first. There would be nothing worse than Lyon doing us a favour and we haven’t managed to get the win we need.“
After great escapes against St. Etienne in 1977, Roma in 1984, Alaves in 2001, Olympiakos and AC Milan in the 2004/05 season, few will be writing off Liverpool’s chances. History shows us that it would not be a wise thing to do.