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Liverpool reach Champions League knockouts, show why they could be favourites to win everything

Steve Nicol and Don Hutchison spar with Craig Burley over Leicester's chances of catching Liverpool.

SALZBURG, Austria -- Jurgen Klopp admitted to being "tense" ahead of Liverpool's Champions League Group E clash with FC Salzburg, but as it turned out, he had nothing to worry about in a 2-0 win.

There was to be no humiliation in the Austrian Alps as Liverpool marched on in pursuit of a sackful of trophies this season. Having weathered a first-half storm against Salzburg to ultimately coast to victory, Liverpool secured their place in next Monday's Round of 16 draw as one of the seeded group winners.

Almost half a season has been played, and Liverpool are suddenly looking like a team that could sweep the board in terms of silverware.

As runaway Premier League leaders, Liverpool are favourites to win their first league title since 1990, while the reigning European champions will enter the Champions League knockout stages as the team to beat in Europe, too.

They already have the UEFA Super Cup in the bag following the penalty shoot-out win against Chelsea in Istanbul earlier this season and are favourites to return from Qatar as FIFA Club World Cup winners later this month.

If their youth team can pull off a shock by winning their Carabao Cup quarterfinal at Aston Villa on Dec. 17, while the seniors are in Qatar, Manchester City's domestic Treble last season might begin to look insignificant in comparison.

Nobody would sensibly suggest that Liverpool will win every competition they enter this season, but they are certainly the dominant force in Europe right now, and beating Salzburg in Austria offered a reminder of their ability to get a result when it matters.

"What a team. What an effort," Klopp said. "It was a tough game, but we had so many sensational performances.

"This kind of attitude, it's great. A tricky one, but we did it.

"I couldn't have more respect for what Salzburg are doing, but I love it, really love it, that my team are smart, they listen and put in a shift like that."

Having navigated a difficult group to qualify, Liverpool now enter the stage of the competition that they have come to master over the past two years. Due to that experience, no team will be favourites in a two-leg tie against Liverpool in the knockout stages.

The advantage of playing at Anfield may have become a cliche, but the incredible performances against Barcelona last season and City the year before underline the unique power Liverpool gain when playing in front of their own fans.

Anfield advantage aside, Klopp's team are the most complete team in Europe at this moment in time, while all of their chief potential rivals are in some kind turmoil or transition.

Liverpool have already won one trophy and are alive in five more competitions as they chase a historic season.

Barcelona would have to overcome the trauma of last season's Anfield collapse to beat Liverpool this time around, while City have fallen 14 points behind Klopp's team in the Premier League and would be underdogs should they meet the Reds in Europe again.

Bayern Munich? They were beaten with ease over two legs by Liverpool last season, while Real Madrid and Juventus both look like teams whose best days are at least 12 months behind them.

Jose Mourinho and Tottenham may be a dangerous opponent, but Europe's best hope of dethroning Liverpool may just have been in Salzburg's hands. The Austrians gave it their best shot and had their chances but ultimately, still came up short.

With the season approaching its halfway point, it would be premature to suggest that Liverpool are on a clear run for a historic season. That said, it will take an unlikely collapse in the Premier League to deny the club a first league title since 1990 and, despite the field of clubs in next week's draw, Liverpool are the side all the others will want to avoid in Europe.

Right now, the most difficult competition to win could prove to be the FA Cup -- a competition they have not won since 2006 -- because a draw away to the likes of City, Manchester United or Leicester could yet trip them up. Over 90 minutes, away from home, anything could happen. Bad luck, the perils of VAR or an opponent raising their game beyond expectations could wreck Liverpool's FA Cup hopes.

But Liverpool have assembled the best team in Europe just as the rest of the continent's heavyweights are rebuilding, so the stars are aligning perfectly for them to repeat in the Champions League. And if they play to anything like their best, they will return from Qatar as Club World Cup champions and further increase their confidence going into the second half of the season.

Salzburg could have been the night when they stumbled in the Champions League, with a vibrant, young team desperate to beat them and progress to the last 16 for the first time. But Liverpool came through it by holding their nerve and pouncing once Jesse Marsch's team began to tire in the second half, scoring in quick succession through ex-Salzburg midfielder Naby Keita and Mohamed Salah.

They produced a performance of seasoned campaigners and, in the second half, showed why they are the European champions.

They have developed a habit of doing that, which is why Liverpool will prove tough to beat in every competition they play in.

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