How Successful Have Liverpool Been in the Europa League?

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Red Trophy IconOne of Liverpool’s punishments for their flaccid 2022/23 campaign is that they must face the rigour of a Europa League campaign in 2023/24.

Gone are those famous Champions League nights at Anfield against a Real Madrid, a Barcelona or an AC Milan; instead, it’s LASK, Union SG and Toulouse that will provide the Reds with their continental opposition this term – with no disrespect intended, that’s quite the comedown.

Jurgen Klopp will name a strong squad for Liverpool’s latest European adventure, although he may be forced to drop one of Alisson, Adrian or Caoimhim Kelleher to conform to UEFA competition rules. Even so, the Reds are the favourites to lift the trophy with the bookmakers, and even their fringe players will be good enough to make a deep run into the competition.

This isn’t Liverpool’s first foray into the Europa League, or the UEFA Cup as it used to be known, so how have the Reds fared in the continent’s second string tournament?

The 1970s – A Perfect Start

The UEFA Cup was first founded in 1971, and just a year later Liverpool got their first taste of the competition – that led to one of the most historic nights in the club’s history.

Liverpool had won domestic trophies by the bucketload before, but continental success had eluded the Reds in those early days of European competition.

But the UEFA Cup afforded them a new chance to compete with some of the best teams around, and in the 1972/73 season Bill Shankly’s men took full advantage.

Round Opponent Score
First, Leg 1 (Home) Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 Win
First, Leg 2 (Away) Eintracht Frankfurt 0-0 Draw
Second, Leg 1(Home) AEK Athens 3-0 Win
Second, Leg 2 (Away) AEK Athens 3-1 Win
Third, Leg 1 (Away) BFC Dynamo 0-0 Draw
Third, Leg 2 (Home) BFC Dynamo 3-1 Win
Quarter-Final, Leg 1 (Home) Dynamo Dresden 2-0 Win
Quarter-Final, Leg 2 (Away) Dynamo Dresden 1-0 Win
Semi-Final, Leg 1 (Home) Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Win
Semi-Final, Leg 2 (Away) Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Loss
Final, Leg 1 (Home) Borussia M’gladbach 3-0 Win
Final, Leg 2 (Away) Borussia M’gladbach 2-0 Loss

The draw paired them with Eintracht Frankfurt in the first round – despatched courtesy of goals from Kevin Keegan and Emlyn Hughes, before AEK Athens were trounced 6-1 on aggregate, with Hughes and Philip Boersma netting two goals apiece.

Dynamo Berlin, who now ply their trade in the lower tiers of German football, were swept aside 3-1 in the third round, before another now faded German outfit – Dynamo Dresden – were on the receiving end of a 0-3 defeat in the quarter finals.

The semis paired the Reds with very familiar opposition in the form of Tottenham Hotspur, with a tense first leg at Anfield ending in a 1-0 victory for Liverpool courtesy of Alec Lindsay’s goal. Spurs pushed hard in the return fixture and would lead 2-1 on the night – however, back in the days of the away goals rule, it was Shankly’s side who progressed to a first European final.

There they would Borussia Monchengladbach, with a bizarre format that saw the final played over two home and away legs. The Reds broke the back of the tie in the first leg at Anfield courtesy of a brace from Kevin Keegan in a 3-0 win, although the Germans would make life rather difficult for Liverpool in the second game after taking a 2-0 lead….they couldn’t find a third goal, however, and so the UEFA Cup was brought back to Merseyside for the first time.

They’d have to wait until 1975/76 for their next crack at the competition – but it was certainly worth the hiatus as Bob Paisley’s side, who would also win the First Division title in a stellar campaign, swept all before them.

Round Opponent Score
First, Leg 1 (Away) Hibernian 1-0 Loss
First, Leg 2 (Home) Hibernian 3-1 Win
Second, Leg 1(Away) Real Sociedad 3-1 Win
Second, Leg 2 (Home) Real Sociedad 6-0 Win
Third, Leg 1 (Away) Slask Wroclaw 2-1 Win
Third, Leg 2 (Home) Slask Wroclaw 3-0 Win
Quarter-Final, Leg 1 (Away) Dynamo Dresden 0-0 Draw
Quarter-Final, Leg 2 (Home) Dynamo Dresden 2-1 Win
Semi-Final, Leg 1 (Away) Barcelona 1-0 Win
Semi-Final, Leg 2 (Home) Barcelona 1-1 Draw
Final, Leg 1 (Home) Club Brugge 3-2 Win
Final, Leg 2 (Away) Club Brugge 1-1 Draw

They were made to work for their second tilt at the UEFA Cup, with Scottish side Hibernian providing ample competition in the first round – the Reds securing their passage 3-2 on aggregate after losing the first leg in Edinburgh.

There was a more comfortable assignment in the second round with a 9-1 aggregate victory over Real Sociedad – John Toshack netting against the team he would later go on to manage, while Slask Wroclaw were despatched 5-1 in the third.

Wins over Dynamo Dresden and Barcelona – the latter featuring a famous 1-0 win at the Nou Camp, set up a final appearance against Club Brugge. The Belgians took a 0-2 lead at Anfield in the first leg after just 15 minutes, but the Reds bounced back to win that game 3-2 and the tie 4-3 on aggregate to land their second UEFA Cup triumph in just two attempts.

No Luck Nineties and Nervy Noughties

The Reds’ supreme performances in the First Division in the early 1980s meant that they would play their continental football in the European Cup, rather than the UEFA Cup.

So they would have to wait until 1991/92 for their return to the competition, although it would end in disappointment as Genoa ended Liverpool’s perfect UEFA Cup record in the quarter-finals.

The Reds would contest the tournament three more times that decade – however, they wouldn’t progress beyond the third round in any of those attempts.

The dawn of the new millennium signalled hope, optimism and a fresh start for all, and Liverpool took full advantage by winning the 2000/01 UEFA Cup.

Round Opponent Score
First, Leg 1 (Away) Rapid Bucuresti 1-0 Win
First, Leg 2 (Home) Rapid Bucuresti 0-0 Draw
Second, Leg 1(Home) Slovan Liberec 1-0 Win
Second, Leg 2 (Away) Slovan Liberec 3-2 Win
Third, Leg 1 (Away) Olympiacos 2-2 Draw
Third, Leg 2 (Home) Olympiacos 2-0 Win
Fourth, Leg 1 (Away) Roma 2-0 Win
Fourth, Leg 2 (Home) Roma 1-0 Loss
Quarter-Final, Leg 1 (Away) Porto 0-0 Draw
Quarter-Final, Leg 2 (Home) Porto 2-0 Win
Semi-Final, Leg 1 (Away) Barcelona 0-0 Draw
Semi-Final, Leg 2 (Home) Barcelona 1-0 Win
Final (Neutral) Alaves 5-4 A.E.T.

They breezed, relatively speaking, through the early rounds, before a stubborn FC Porto were downed 2-0 at Anfield in the second leg of the quarter-finals.

Gary McAllister’s penalty would be all that separated the Reds and Barcelona in the semis, before another Spanish outfit – Alaves – stood in the way in the final. A scarcely believable game, which Liverpool led at various times 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3 would eventually end 5-4 after extra time; Delfi Geli the unfortunate soul to score an own goal and decide the outcome of a titanic contest.

Since then, the Reds have mostly been interested in Champions League football, although there was a run to the final of the 2015/16 Europa League – Sevilla running out deserved 3-1 winners on the night.

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