The costly ramifications of a Liverpool Champions League exit

A win in Paris for Jurgen Klopp’s side would almost certainly put them in the last 16 – but what about the worst-case scenario?

For Liverpool, the big games just keep on coming.

Jurgen Klopp has called this “the most intense period of the whole year”, and it is hard to argue with the Reds boss. A defining period? It just might be.

The Merseyside derby, for once, can wait. Sunday’s Premier League clash is a big one, but for now it pales in comparison with the challenge facing the Reds on the continent.

Klopp and his players looked relaxed as they touched down in Paris on Tuesday, but there will be no room for complacency. Paris Saint-Germain, a club built for Champions League success, await them.

The stage is set, the stakes are high, and Neymar is expected to be fit; Kylian Mbappe too. Edinson Cavani will be there. Thiago Silva. Gigi Buffon. Big names, big tests, big night, in more ways than one.

Win, and Liverpool will almost certainly be in the last 16. Draw and they will be in the box seat, too.

Lose, though, and the unthinkable comes into view. Could last season’s finalists, the team which thrilled the world en route to Kiev, be about to crash out at the first hurdle this time around?

It shouldn’t really have come to this, but a last-minute concession in Naples and a shocker of a performance in Belgrade have left Klopp’s side on the precipice. The likelihood is that they will need to beat Napoli at Anfield in a fortnight’s time, perhaps by two goals, to progress.

Not the worst scenario in the world – the Reds have handled such challenges in the past, remember – but a worry nonetheless.

As the feel-good factor around Anfield grows with each passing week – victory at Watford extended their unbeaten start to the Premier League season to 13 matches – a Champions League exit would represent a huge blow.

Financially, the impact would be obvious. Liverpool earned just under £70 million ($89m) from their run to the final last season and will, of course, have been targeting a similarly thrilling prosperous campaign this time around.

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Their participation in the group stage will guarantee them £13.5m ($17.3m), with extra payments of £2.4m ($3.1m) per win and £800,000 ($1m) per draw, in addition to their share of the sizeable TV rights pool, and UEFA’s new ‘coefficient ranking’, which pays clubs according to their performance in European competition over a 10-year period.

Exit now, and the Reds miss out on a guaranteed £8.4m ($10.8m) for appearing in the last 16, with incremental payments available upon progression thereafter. A run to the final, for example, would net them an additional £33.1m ($42.5m) in prize money alone.

More significant, though, would be the sporting ramifications. Liverpool have been on an upward curve, but failure here would check their progress. It would, in many ways, be a bigger blow even than their defeat to Real Madrid back in May.

This, remember, is a squad which was strengthened in order to cope with the demands of competing on multiple fronts. And while their domestic campaign is going well, the idea of Liverpool dropping down into the Europa League after Christmas appeals to nobody. Except maybe Manchester City.

Thursday night trips to Krasnodar or St Petersburg would do little to aid the Reds’ title bid, and selling the club to potential transfer targets is unquestionably easier if you are lighting up their TV screens on the big stage each week.

The likes of Virgil van Dijk, Naby Keita, Fabinho and Mo Salah have bought into the vision Klopp showed them, but that vision eventually requires tangible success on top. Without it, as Liverpool have been for more than six years now, there is a danger of drift. You’re good, but you’re not the one.

Last season was, in many ways, about more than the football for Liverpool. It marked a return to prominence for the Reds, a reminder that the five-times European champions can still be a force in this modern era of petrodollars and superclubs. It brought hope and excitement that, just maybe, the future could be as glorious as the past for English football’s most storied club.

Defeat in Paris, or indeed against Napoli, would not extinguish that hope but it would certainly bring questions. Liverpool’s group was a tough one, but they will still have fancied their chances of progression. Even more so after beating PSG on matchday one.

That night was a continuation of last season’s form, a rousing atmosphere and a performance to match. An Anfield special, you might say. That night, it felt like nothing had changed. The machine was going to roll on.

Away from home, though, it has been a different story, the showings in Naples and Belgrade representing a significant step backwards, and placing the Reds in this precarious situation.

Klopp’s team have lacked confidence and conviction, they have passed the ball poorly and looked lethargic, particularly in midfield.

Klopp took a risk by tinkering with his team in Belgrade, leaving out key players and trusting those without full match sharpness. Do that too often and you’ll be punished. Liverpool have now lost their last four European games away from Anfield.

A return to form on Wednesday would be most welcome. PSG are a team of stars, but their Champions League record shows they are still far from an elite team.

Ligue 1 is their comfort zone – they have won all 14 of their matches so far this season – but out of it they can struggle to raise their levels. One win from four group matches says that, as do exits at the hands of Real Madrid, Manchester City and, most famously, Barcelona in recent seasons.

Klopp has had the measure of Thomas Tuchel, his opposite number, in recent meetings, memorably seeing off his Borussia Dortmund side in the Europa League in 2016 and stunning PSG late back in September.

Tuchel has more reason than most to be sick of the sight of the men in red, and knows that a group stage exit would bring questions about his future at Parc des Princes.

Klopp’s position, of course, is far more secure. There would be no knee-jerk reaction should Liverpool crash out, and nor should there be. The club, clearly, are heading in the right direction under the German.

The trick now is to make sure their journey is not delayed. One win should do it. How the Reds would love to get it in Paris.