Liverpool stunned Barcelona but this club – and these fans – have a way of making the impossible seem possible. Adam Bate was at Anfield on a night when, against the odds, belief was in the air from the outset…
“Just try it and if we can do it then wonderful,” said Jurgen Klopp before the game. “Then if not, then fail in the most beautiful way if you want, with a close result.”
There was beauty, all right, but no failure. Not after one of the most extraordinary of all nights as Liverpool beat Barcelona 4-0 to overturn a three-goal first-leg deficit amid a cacophony of Anfield noise. Klopp’s men, incredibly, are through to the final again.
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It began and ended with goals from that most unlikely of heroes, Divock Origi. In between, there were two more by substitute Georginio Wijnaldum in 122 crazy seconds and a whole heap of brilliance by Liverpool throughout. Barcelona simply could not cope with it.
For context, Liverpool needed to inflict upon Barca the biggest defeat they had ever suffered against an English team if they wanted to progress – and they managed to pull it off.
Perhaps we should know Klopp’s Liverpool well enough by now not to be totally shocked but this was still something else. This was Barcelona they were up against. Lionel Messi.
The three-goal head-start was not Barcelona’s only advantage. While Messi, Luis Suarez and the rest were well rested, Liverpool were without Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. Andy Robertson made it to half-time. Jordan Henderson took a knock to the knee.
And still they did it.
The work rate of Liverpool was astonishing from the outset. They pressed Barca and they forced the mistakes, Jordi Alba surrendering possession in the build-up to the first goal.
Barca did all they could to slow down the speed at which it was all happening to them but they could gain no control of the contest. Klopp had urged his team not to panic if the early goal did not come but come it did and the panic was all Barcelona’s.
The crowd, of course, played their part too.
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Belief key for Liverpool
Klopp spoke of “using the atmosphere” in the build-up but he also talked of “creating” it and though these Liverpool supporters need no encouragement to make these European nights special they still had plenty of it on Tuesday evening.
Vincent Kompany’s magnificent Monday night winner for Manchester City against Leicester had done its best to deflate but everyone seemed determined to raise the spirits.
Salah was unavailable for selection but he still turned up at Anfield wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘never give up’ while the coach and captain used their programme notes to ratchet up the mood of possibility.
“We’re not just playing for pride – that’s not enough for Liverpool – we’re playing to win and make the final,” claimed Jordan Henderson. The message from Klopp read: “This Liverpool never stops. This Liverpool never quits.”
Even the public address system was on message. Don’t Stop Believing was part of a medley of songs aimed at making the impossible feel possible and by the time that the players were finishing their warm-up, they were roared from the field.
It was the first roar of many.
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The pressing from the outset had fans from their seats. Fabinho prevented Messi from finding a way through then Jordan Henderson and James Milner crowding him out to launch another Liverpool counter-attack. Anfield loved it.
Expecting Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri to match Messi and Suarez is difficult. Hoping that they could help Liverpool find at least three more goals than their illustrious visitors seemed ludicrous but both inflicted their blows on Barcelona.
Origi, in particular, was a force, raiding down the right, stroking the ball home for the opening goal from the left channel, and making it stick in the middle. When his hold-up play sparked one counter-attack in the first half, Klopp could be seen punching the air in delight.
He needed his back-up players and he needed his substitutes too. Wijnaldum provided the added box threat after the break, coming up with two goals, the first from a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross from the right and the second from Shaqiri away on the left.
It was Alexander-Arnold’s initiative that brought Liverpool their decisive fourth goal when he felt confident enough to ignore Shaqiri’s pleas to wait for him rather than take the corner himself. The young full-back spotted Origi in space and the striker did the rest.
It’s the sort of inspiration that Klopp loves. Afterwards, he described it as “genius moment from Alexander-Arnold. “I saw the ball going into the net and had no idea who took the corner,” admitted Klopp. “Two people connected and that moment was enough.”
Fans play huge part
As for the fans, Anfield can seldom have been noisier than when that goal went in. As wonderful as they were, could these players have delivered this result in an empty stadium?
“No chance,” said Klopp afterwards. “We know this club is a mix of atmosphere, emotion and desire and football quality. This club has a big heart and obviously tonight it was pounding like crazy and we could feel it all over the world.”
It was enthralling viewing. Not because Liverpool had it all their own way but because they didn’t. The jeopardy was always there. This attempt to conjure another classic Anfield comeback was being played out on the maximum difficulty setting.
All the time, of course, until the very end, there was the knowledge that one Barcelona goal could all but end their hopes. Liverpool produced poetry in motion, even though they were being asked to recite it from within the jaws of the Barcelona beast.
“We not only have to score, we have to deny Barcelona from scoring and it doesn’t happen too often that Barcelona doesn’t score at all,” Klopp had explained.
The quality of the opposition meant Liverpool were constantly at risk of this comeback being extinguished. Twice Messi went close to conjuring the goal in first-half stoppage time.
Alisson was in inspired form, coming up with another save from Suarez after the interval and later denying Messi at the near post too. Everyone was a hero on a night like this.
And when it was over, it was pure emotion as all of them drank in the adulation in front the Kop. “I saw tears in their eyes,” said Klopp. “This sport cuts you like crazy.”
Liverpool have taken their hits this season. Much of the focus has been on how they have pushed Manchester City to the limit but they are the ones who will have been tested most by the thought of putting so much into this season and still having no silverware to show for it.
But while Liverpool’s chances of lifting the Premier League trophy on Sunday are still slim despite winning eight games in a row, the campaign could end in Champions League glory.
They will be the favourites to lift a sixth European Cup in Madrid next month.
A trophy is deserved
It’s confirmation that Klopp has restored Liverpool whatever happens next. They were already the only team to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League in each of the past two seasons. Now they are in back-to-back finals for the first time since the 1980s.
For a club whose self-esteem has long been defined by their accomplishments on the continent, the significance of that, even as they seek to end their long wait for a league title, cannot be overstated.
Whether it’s the five European Cups adorning the huge banner in the Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand or the flags in the Kop that proclaims they are the cream of Europe, this matters to this club.
And for the players who crave a trophy to cap this sustained period of excellence they have produced, they deserve their chance to take the final step in this competition after last year’s disappointment against Real Madrid.