Sixteen years ago, Rafael Benitez guided Liverpool into the Champions League final for the first time in 26 years. The Spaniard's team came out of the ceremony as a three-time champion, part of a decade-long European project that netted glory but also moments of discontent and utter humiliation.

The Premier League club ended last year's season well-placed to make an American turnaround in 2019, but they've fallen into a deeper hole this campaign. They sit fifth in the table, 15 points behind Chelsea and seven behind the leaders, Manchester City.

That said, Liverpool is still in the running for a top-four spot with nine games remaining, and Benitez has been making his presence felt by shaping the team's future. He's helped push the club to make 21 signings this calendar year (11 in January alone) and several of the squad's top stars want him to stay.

The 53-year-old coach is in pole position to stay on, and after watching his team score 10 goals in the Premier League in three matches over the past week, Liverpool is a contender for a place in the Champions League group stage next season.

If Liverpool makes the cut for December's draw, they would have to play at Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid. With the Bundesliga in the midst of a players' strike, it's hard to imagine that Bayern would be keen to play against them after their 8-0 rout of the Reds this season.

The last time Liverpool made the Champions League group stage, they gave their opponents a reminder of what happens when a dominant team is unable to adjust. They routed Arsenal 6-0 in the group stage in 2009. They are certainly capable of doing it again.