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How Liverpool Recovered From the Cusp of Midtable Mediocrity

Liverpool has a great opportunity to return to the Champions League final, but it's been a long road back to the glory days for one of England and Europe's proudest clubs.
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With Liverpool set to feature in their first Champions League semifinal in 10 years, the Anfield faithful once again have exciting, nail-biting nights under the floodlights to look forward to. The Reds have hit their stride and have found themselves in position few could have dreamed of only a few years ago.

Liverpool's European pedigree is undeniable, with the Gerrard generation having taken Europe by storm for a brief spell throughout the 2000s. From that comeback in Istanbul, to mercilessly dismantling some of Europe's super clubs, Liverpool fans of a certain age have pretty much seen it all in their time.

However, for the younger generation, they may be far more used to the Liverpool side that failed to qualify from a Champions League group featuring FC Basel and Ludogorets - the kind of teams the Red men of years gone by would've dispatched without a second thought.

Instead, younger Reds had come to accept such mediocre performances as part and parcel of being a Liverpool fan - that being the regressive attitude inherited from the Roy Hodgson era at Anfield.

As far as Hodgson's tenure at Liverpool went, it was brief, but it cannot be underestimated just how damaging it was to the Merseyside outfit, in his short six months with the club. 

Following the contentious dismissal of Rafael Benitez, Liverpool went from being a staple of the Premier League top four, to suffering one humiliating defeat after another as they gradually slipped further down the table. 

Throughout Hodgson's half season as Liverpool boss he recruited a set of players that were a far cry from the likes of Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres. 

Instead, the former Fulham boss brought in some of the worst players Reds fans have had the displeasure of watching, including Milan Jovanovic and Paul Konchesky - whose mum infamously even had a dig at Liverpool fans, when the Kop took against the defender's shambolic performances.

Losses at home to the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Wolves and Blackpool perfectly epitomized the slump fans had seen, with the team who were crowned European champions only six seasons prior, now more accustomed to losing against teams battling relegation.

The appointment of Kenny Dalglish in January 2011 did little more than delay the rot that had set in from Hodgson's time in the Anfield hot seat. Finishes in sixth and eighth place saw the Reds earn a reputation as an upper midtable side, and the appointment of Brendan Rodgers did little to change that.

Aside from a narrow League Cup victory over Cardiff in 2012, Liverpool had become accustomed to the bitter taste of mediocrity. With the Reds reputation rapidly declining, it seemed that only a miracle would see them restored to  to pinnacle of English football.

Some shrewd recruitment throughout Rodgers' tenure as manager saw the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge come through the door to partner a small contingent of top quality players already present at the club, such as Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling, and it was starting to look as though Liverpool were making some headway in their endeavor to rebuild.

A strong end to the 2012/13 season saw an invigorated Liverpool side make a charge for the title in 2013/14 however, the Reds fell just short, losing out to Manchester City, and with the collapse of their title hopes, so too went their team.

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The following summer Suarez, Sterling and Gerrard had all departed the club and the reputation Rodgers had built for himself came tumbling down as he spent frivolously on sub-par players such as Lazar Markovic and Christian Benteke, seeing history start to repeat itself.

In Rodgers' last 46 Premier League games (from the start of the 2014/15 season onward) the Northern Irishman achieved a 46% win rate, with a massively disconcerting 30% loss rate. Such statistics are fully representative of the team he constructed, with the majority of the Liverpool starting 11 being players signed throughout his tenure at the club.

With the Reds once again falling into a pattern of taking one step forward and two steps back, Jurgen Klopp was appointed, cutting his sabbatical short in order to take up the helm of what was an apparently sinking ship.

A man renowned for his incredible acumen in terms of both man management and recruitment, Klopp took Liverpool to the final of both the League Cup and Europa League in his first few months in charge, leading a team bequeathed by another manager entirely to the verge of Champions League qualification.

The following season was where things truly began to take off for Klopp's Liverpool, with the German taking the Merseyside outfit to the Champions League for the first time since they failed to qualify from the group stage in the 2014/15 campaign.

A mixture of a wise recruitment policy, and top class man management, has seen Liverpool transformed from a team that seemed destined to stagnate in mediocrity, to a side that is able to compete against Europe's elite on the big stage once more.

The manner in which Liverpool have humbled a seemingly unstoppable Manchester City side thrice this calendar year demonstrates just how far they have come in such a short time under Klopp.

With Naby Keita and a host of other stars set to walk through the door at Anfield in the coming months, who knows just how long it will be before Liverpool are once again considered among the best teams in Europe.