Gary Lineker's big Champions League claim only highlights Liverpool regret

European football is back this week... and Liverpool aren't involved.

The Reds will, of course, return to continental action next month. However, for now, they can only watch on as the Europa League preliminary knockout round gets underway, having earned a bye to the last 16.

Jurgen Klopp has a chance to claim the one trophy that has eluded him in his time at Liverpool, with the Europa League final set for Dublin on 22 May — in what would be the legendary manager's final game in charge.

The Reds are tournament favourites to realise that dream and it would be some send off for the boss, but there is a bittersweetness that it isn't the big one Liverpool are chasing down.

Champions League action also returned this week, with Manchester City and Arsenal the only two English representatives left in the competition.

Liverpool, who won the trophy in 2019 under Klopp and reached two other finals, missed out on qualification for Europe's top competition after finishing fifth in the Premier League last season.

Many have commented that the Champions League knockout draw has lacked a little sparkle so far, a notion undoubtedly added to by Liverpool's absence.

With some of Europe's top sides like Bayern Munich and Barcelona off their peaks, there is a fear that Manchester City will be unstoppable in their bid f0r back-to-back titles.

Domestically, however, Liverpool — still leading the Premier League — appear the best hope of preventing City from doing a consecutive trebles, with Klopp's side one of the strongest looking teams anywhere currently.

Considering the quality, or apparent lack thereof, in Europe's top competition this season, it highlights a missed opportunity for the Reds.

Speaking on The Rest Is Football podcast, Gary Lineker said what many will have been thinking by suggesting Liverpool might've been serious contenders this season, had they only made the cut.

“I should mention that Liverpool are in the Europa League which I think would have been a side who would have a great chance in the Champions League if they had qualified,” the former striker turned pundit said.

Jurgen Klopp

Bournemouth v Liverpool Premier League 21/01/2024. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp watching the players warm up ahead of the Premier League match between Bournemouth and Liverpool at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth, England on 21 January 2024. Bournemouth Vitality Stadium Dorset England Editorial use only DataCo restrictions apply See , Copyright: xGrahamxHuntx PSI-18861-0015

Following that quadruple push in 2021/22, Liverpool struggled badly for much of last season, resulting in a lack of Champions League football for the first time since 2016.

Klopp's side didn't win any of their opening three Premier League games and lost nine matches in total across the campaign, including back-to-back 3-0 defeats away to Brighton and Wolves.

Despite rallying to win seven of their last nine, Liverpool could only finish fifth, salvaging the prospect of European football but still four points off Champions League qualification.

Klopp's tweaked tactical approach in the latter stages of the 2022/23 campaign helped reinvigorate the Reds, while the summer midfield overhaul and further adaptation for stars like Darwin Nuñez have contributed to the club's improved fortunes.

While the Reds missed a chance to lift the Champions League (for a seventh time) in the final season before the format undergoes major changes, there is much to play for in Klopp's final months and the prospect of the manager signing off with a Europa League title in Dublin remains an enticing consolation target.

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