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£13m transfer offended the Pope, winning the wrong final and why Liverpool are about to offer AC Milan an opportunity

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Some 554 days have passed since Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side – complete with their sizeable travelling contingent from one of the continent’s biggest COVID-19 hot spots at the start of the pandemic – unceremoniously dumped Jurgen Klopp’s holders out of the competition they had won at their opponents’ Metropolitano Stadium against Tottenham Hotspur on June 1 the previous year.

It’s the fans who make European nights at Anfield and after an 18-month coronavirus-induced hiatus, the noise and colour that Liverpool’s supporters bring to these grand occasions is now about to return.

Since that 3-2 extra time defeat, Liverpool have been forced to play Champions League matches at an empty Anfield – or in the case of their knockout tie against RB Leipzig, play both legs in neutral Budapest – while on the home front, belatedly secured their first League Championship in 30 years to end a club record drought and then battled back to rally at the end of an injury-hit, almost entirely behind-closed-doors campaign that threatened to derail their participation in this term’s Champions League competition completely.

As it is, the fans’ European return to Anfield presents them with a true heavyweight clash.

If the Reds had missed out on a place at the top table, it would have been a major shock given their levels of consistency domestically in recent years with back-to-back points totals of 97 and 99 plus consecutive runs to the Champions League final in 2018-19.

Kopites, quite rightly, wouldn’t have had it any other way given what happened on the incredible night they dubbed ‘The Miracle of Istanbul’ but really they won the wrong final against Milan in their 2005 and 2007 meetings.

However, former powerhouse AC Milan have been something akin to a washed up Muhammad Ali facing Larry Holmes rather than the outstanding specimen who went toe-to-toe with George Foreman and Joe Frazier in ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ and ‘Thrilla in Manila’ respectively.
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