Liverpool back in Champions League contention as Klopp progress gathers pace
Liverpool getting past Porto to reach the quarterfinal of the Champions League was the least surprising event of the season.
After leading 5-0 from the first leg a team shouldn't be congratulated for negotiating their way through the second game, yet there was something professional and methodical in the Liverpool approach that will please both manager and supporters.
Everyone knows this team plays great football but in the area of pragmatism they've occasionally been suspect, especially at Sevilla when they let a three-goal lead slip.
It's true Porto were disappointing. Far from giving it a go, they seemed determined not to be humiliated further.That made Liverpool's ultimate aim of progression easier still but at least the Portuguese saved some face and the great Iker Casillas left Champions League football with a clean sheet and the applause of another great European stadium ringing in his ears.
Jurgen Klopp changed a few things from his first-choice team, in particular resting Mohammed Salah but then bizarrely giving him 20 minutes during a meaningless finale. The Egyptian entertained the crowd with some immaculate control but apart from that there was little entertainment on offer and the result Liverpool wanted secured with little drama. That hasn't always been the case in recent years.
Adam Lallana was rusty and disappointing, often running round like a clockwork mouse with little purpose or direction. It was his first full 90 minutes for a while and Klopp may have to rethink where he uses the England man in future but at least it was good to see him back.
Liverpool now have a Champions League quarterfinal to look forward to, their first since the halcyon days of Rafa Benitez when they seemed a permanent fixture in the latter stages of Europe's biggest tournament back in 2009. It was a classic too, when the Reds surprised everyone by making a real contest of a tie that had looked lost after the first leg.
They'd been beaten 3-1 at home by Chelsea and things looked bleak, but at times during a scintillating 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge they'd looked capable of pulling off the impossible.
England had four clubs in the 2009 quarterfinals, just as they'd had the year before when Liverpool also faced English opposition by beating Arsenal but losing again to Chelsea. Four clubs in the quarterfinals and three in the semifinals. It was a marvellous time for the English in Europe and there's a real chance Liverpool may face familiar opponents again. Manchester City look like they'll go through easily while neighbours United should also win their home leg with Sevilla. Tottenham face Juventus and though that will be tough, home advantage after a 2-2 first leg for Mauricio Pochettino's in-form side should see them through.
The only real doubt over an English clean sweep and an unprecedented five clubs in the quarterfinals is Chelsea, who'll take a 1-1 draw on a daunting trip to Barcelona.
It's great that the English are making their mark on the continent again, and somewhat coincidentally -- although Liverpool fans believe differently -- the Reds are part of that surge. As England's most successful club in Europe it has a natural feel to it whenever Liverpool are part of the challenge. Some of the continent's giants may still prevail in the end but it feels right that the Reds are competitive in the Champions League.
They may be next season too, with a sizeable gap between themselves and Chelsea in fifth place in the Premier League.
For too long the Reds have only managed a decent league performance without European distraction. So much depends upon Klopp and his men negotiating ably what remains of this season.
Keeping great players at your club is a major part of success and if the Reds are going to be entertaining such illustrious company in future that can only help with that task.
Outsiders may glibly claim Liverpool drew the weakest opponent in the round-of-16 but they also said that in 2005 when they easily beat Bayer Leverkusen.
There was nothing easy about Juventus, Chelsea or AC Milan who could not block Liverpool's path to an unlikely but glorious fifth European Cup win.
Strangely, all the best Benitez teams came after that triumph but Klopp has also made real progress in a short space of time.
Liverpool have the same opportunity to make history again and whoever they draw will know they'll face a difficult match.
The club has to wait a while before knowing their opponents and face one of the domestic season's biggest challenges this Saturday with a trip to Old Trafford, hardly one of Liverpool's happiest hunting grounds.
It all looks difficult, almost impossible in fact, but choosing between the current situation and a drab trickling out of a nondescript season with nothing to play for is no choice at all. This is where Liverpool need to be.
Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.