Liverpool have been paired with Real Madrid once again in the Champions League and the narratives go well beyond Mohamed Salah heading into the last-16.
Liverpool fans have every justification for dreading yet another Champions League meeting with Real Madrid. The memories of defeat in last season’s final of course remain fresh in the mind, and it is not like that was the first time the Spaniards had inflicted pain upon Kopites, either.
That May meeting in Paris was supposed to have been a revenge mission for the 2018 final, when Real emerged 3-1 victors in Kyiv. Or was it in fact for the 2020-21 quarter-finals, when Zinedine Zidane’s men breezed into the last four by the same aggregate scoreline?
Either way, those dual disappointments are likely to discourage similar pre-match talk of payback when the sides face off again (take note, Mohamed Salah).
And any previous suggestions that Real might be waning in comparison to a resurgent Liverpool have been disproven so many times in recent years that only a fool would air them this time around. As such, the Reds need to find themselves a new narrative to cling to ahead of this latest meeting with their European bogey team.
Fortunately, that should not be too difficult given that the events of the season thus far have spelt out exactly how this one should be approached. Liverpool’s poor start to the campaign means that, unlike in Paris, they will not head into the tie as major favourites for success.
A far more stable Real, meanwhile, have every reason to think they might be more capable of imposing themselves upon their opponents rather than putting in the dogged performance that secured the trophy in May.
But, should that belief stray into overconfidence at any point, then it would play right into the Reds’ hands. Jürgen Klopp would certainly relish the opportunity to put on the sort of counter-attacking masterclass against a European heavyweight that was the hallmark of his early reign.
October’s 1-0 win over Manchester City offered concrete proof that his team are still more than capable of leaning on those old principles, particularly in a moment when they are struggling to consistently show the most dominant version of themselves.
And such an approach would be further aided by a raucous Anfield atmosphere that Real have not had to contend with since the sides met in 2009.
On that occasion, Liverpool ran a star-studded opposition line-up ragged in claiming a 4-0 victory on the night and 5-0 aggregate success.
Admittedly, expecting a similar outcome this time feels beyond ambitious given the two sides’ form at the point at which they have been drawn together.
But it seems obvious that the Reds’ best chance of finally putting their Real hoodoo to bed is to wholeheartedly embrace the underdog tag they have spent the last few years shaking off.