Steven Gerrard’s achievements with Liverpool in Europe are the stuff of legend.
A scorer in two European finals, he led his team out for two Champions League showpieces and was instrumental in perhaps football’s most fabled comeback on a never-to-be-forgotten night in Istanbul.
Like all Reds fans, Gerrard will be desperate for Jurgen Klopp’s men to win through their Champions League play-off and see the Reds back among Europe’s elite.
But he also has a more personal reason for hoping to see Liverpool among those final 32 teams in the group stages.
Gerrard will shortly take over as the U18s manager for Liverpool, and a Champions League place for the Reds means an equivalent Champions League place for his team too.
The UEFA Youth League operates as a tournament for the continent’s finest young U19 talents alongside the main competition.
Teams are put into the same groups of four as the first team squads, playing opposition home and away in a six-game league.
Group winners go direct into the last 16 while the eight second-place teams take part in play-offs against the winners of a separate stream of qualifiers involving the youth champions of the 32 top-ranked UEFA associations, unless they already qualify through the Champions League.
The tournament then proceeds as a single-round knockout all the way to the final where the teams play for the Lennart Johansson Trophy.
Liverpool last played in the tournament in 2014-15 of course when they were in a group with Real Madrid, Basel and Ludogorets, just like the first team.
The team included the likes of Jerome Sinclair, Sergi Canos – both subsequently sold for decent money – as well as Sheyi Ojo, Ovie Ejaria , Harry Wilson, Ryan Kent and Cameron Brannagan, who have all gone on to also make first-team debuts.
It was Wilson who scored a famous late winner against Real Madrid at Langtree Park in St Helens as the Reds won 3-2, eventually qualifying out of the group as runners-up.
They were then given a tough tie away at Benfica in the last 16, losing 2-1 in a closely-fought game.
The current UEFA Youth League champions are Red Bull Salzburg after two successive victories for Chelsea.
Gerrard more than anyone will know the value of European experience for his young team.
This season Liverpool’s main competition from Europe was at U23 level in the Premier League International Cup where they lost 2-1 to Wolsburg and drew with Porto, missing out on the knockout rounds.
Source: Liverpool Echo
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