Paul Merson thinks Liverpool and Chelsea should be considered favourites for the Champions League.
The Reds and the Blues just played out an epic EFL Cup final that went all the way to penalties and there went 11-10 on spot-kicks as it fell down to the goalkeepers to settle the trophy, and Kepa Arrizabalaga blazed his shot over the bar.
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And Merson thinks the tense defensive excellence at the heart of the pulse-pounding yet goalless 120 minutes gives both sides an edge. “I watched the game on Sunday and those two are not going to be a million miles away from winning the Champions League.
“They have got the best two defences in Europe and if you want to win Champions League football over two legs, you need to keep clean sheets. I think those teams have the ammunition going forward. People will say, “well, it was a 0-0”, but it was not a 0-0 game was it? It was outstanding.”
Merson continued, waxing lyrical about Sunday’s final: “Great goalkeeping, great defending, good centre-forward play. Not great finishing, but it just showed me that both teams are bang in there for the Champions League.”
“One of them two [will win it]. They are so good at the back. I watch Man City and they will give you a chance.”
Despite Liverpool being well in contention to win the Premier League title, Merson believes the Reds have a better shot at glory on the continent: “I think Liverpool have got more chance of winning the Champions League than the Premier League.”
“They can lose three more matches in the Champions League and still win it, but if they lose three Premier League games they have got no chance. They have got no leeway in the Premier League.”
Merson’s reasoning seems bizarre at first but when you consider the overwhelming advantage Anfield gives the Reds in two-legged ties, you can see why the former Arsenal midfielder sees them having more room to make mistakes in Europe rather than the unyielding marathon that is challenging Manchester City for the Premier League.
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Liverpool’s ability to dominate in penalty shoot-outs is another thing which gives them a huge edge in Europe. With the elimination of away goals the likelyhood of matches going all the way to penalties has increased, and to that end the Reds’ brilliance will help.
From the club employing Neuro11, a company specialising in neuroscientific data, to help them with set-pieces to the extent that they, not Klopp, were the ones who decided the penalty-taking order in the EFL Cup final.
All the way to things such as Virgil van Dijk psyching Kepa Arrizabalaga out. As Ian Wright said on his Wrighty’s House podcast: “with the Virgil penalty – to see Arrizabalga standing in the corner and Virgil still put it in that corner – and then it’s the way that Virgil looked at him afterwards. He gave him such a look of disdain, it was horrible. Virgil’s horrible!”
To make clear that he was praising Van Dijk, Wright did add: “he’s got a great look of disdain.”