Runners-up last season, Liverpool have already given supporters a victory for the ages on their return to the final, writes Simon Hughes

BUSINESS

UNFINISHED

Whatever happens in Madrid, the scenes at Anfield on Tuesday 7 May 2019 will always be remembered. Liverpool’s performance against Barcelona in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final was among the club’s greatest in modern times. 

Trailing 3-0 after a humbling experience at the Camp Nou, Liverpool were missing four key players for the return on Merseyside. Worse, Jürgen Klopp was forced to withdraw another vital member of his team at half-time following an injury to Andy Robertson.

Liverpool were leading 1-0 by that point but still required at least another two goals to have a chance of going through – on penalties. They would need another three to avoid that nail-biting scenario or, perhaps most realistically, as many as four given Barcelona’s persistent menace. 

The first half had been breathless and Liverpool’s lead was merited, but Barcelona continued to whip up danger on the break. Thanks to the shot-stopping ability of Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker, Liverpool were still in with a chance …

4 GOALS

ROBERTO FIRMINO, SADIO MANÉ, MOHAMED SALAH

TEAM LEADERS

4 ASSISTS

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD

126KM DISTANCE COVERED 

SADIO MANÉ

Liverpool have reached successive European Cup finals for the third time.

3

Only Real Madrid (16), Milan (11) and Bayern (10) have  reached more finals.

9

Liverpool’s 22 goals have been scored by nine different players.

22

Only Alisson Becker and Sadio Mané have played in all
12 games.

12

Liverpool’s unbeaten home run in Europe since Jürgen Klopp took over.

19

It had been Alisson who saved Liverpool during the group stage. Needing victory against Napoli in their final fixture, Liverpool were 1-0 up thanks to Mohamed Salah but ought to have been comfortably clear. Chance after chance had been spurned. Then, in added time, came Alisson’s big moment: a cross from José Callejón fell to Arkadiusz Milik. Napoli were now surely going through. Yet Alisson stood tall and Milik’s shot cannoned off his shoulder. Liverpool had qualified, but only just.

The group phase had been difficult for Klopp’s team. Three victories at home delivered nine points. Three away defeats, in contrast, left them flirting with elimination. Paris Saint-Germain provided the sternest of opening tests on matchday one, but Liverpool came through, defeating the French champions 3-2 thanks to Daniel Sturridge’s opener, James Milner’s penalty and a last-gasp winner from substitute Roberto Firmino.

Klopp would later reflect on the next game away to Napoli with regret, analysing why Liverpool had offered such a sterile display in a late defeat. And though Crvena zvezda were dispatched easily back at Anfield thanks to goals from Firmino, Salah and Sadio Mané, the return fixture in Belgrade was sobering, as Liverpool fell 2-0 down and never looked like recovering. Then, a second-half fightback in Paris was not enough to escape a third reverse, this time 2-1. 

Progression to the knockout stage was ultimately sealed at Napoli’s expense, but Liverpool’s Premier League form and the possibility of a first domestic title in 29 years meant they felt less pressure in Europe. Klopp, though, was determined to ensure that Liverpool’s fight raged across two fronts. Their prospects dimmed after a defensive Bayern side drew 0-0 at Anfield in the first leg of the round of 16. But Klopp’s men had the answer, outclassing the Bundesliga champions in Bavaria and winning 3-1 thanks to two wonderful goals from Mané and a powerful Virgil van Dijk header.

Full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold

En route to the final in Kyiv last season, Liverpool had beaten Porto 5-0 away from home. A reunion in the quarter-finals gave the Portuguese side a chance of revenge. It soon disappeared. Porto slipped to a 2-0 defeat at Anfield following goals from Naby Keïta and Firmino, and Liverpool polished them off 4-1 away – Mané, Salah, Firmino and Van Dijk again finding the net.

That put Barcelona in Liverpool’s path. The Catalan giants had been crowned Spanish champions for the eighth time in 11 years just four days before Liverpool visited the Camp Nou, where they created the sort of chances they had taken all season. Not this time. They were made to pay by Lionel Messi, who scored twice after Luis Suárez had established Barcelona’s lead in his first game against the club he once represented with distinction.

 

Alisson stood tall to
save from Milik. Liverpool had qualified, but only just

Having roared past two opponents in Porto and Bayern who had failed to score in away first legs, Klopp’s side appreciated the scale of their challenge six days later. Could they really score three and take it to penalties? Could they score four? Was it possible to stop a Barcelona team featuring the genius of Messi, a player who had already registered his 600th goal for the club against Liverpool with a dazzling free-kick?

Klopp had not given up. He would tell his players in their pre-match meeting that so long as Liverpool scored first, there was still a chance. Anfield would believe again. Barcelona, meanwhile, would remember what had happened last season when they were knocked out by Roma in the quarters, having led 4-1 going into the second leg. 

When Divock Origi made it 1-0 to Liverpool, the stadium erupted. Robertson’s early exit meant an introduction for Georginio Wijnaldum. In the space of three second-half minutes, he made it 2-0 then 3-0. Anfield was believing now and Barcelona’s players retreated, struggling to create possibilities in Liverpool’s half. With 11 minutes to go, the Reds would seal progression to the final thanks to the quick thinking of a ballboy and the vision of Trent Alexander-Arnold, who took a corner while Barcelona’s players were still preparing. The chance for Origi was not as easy as he made it look, but calmly, amid the chaos of Anfield, Liverpool were through.

ROAD TO MADRID

GROUP B

Paris Saint-Germain

Liverpool

Napoli

Crvena Zvezda

W

3

3

2

1

D

2

0

3

1

L

1

3

1

4

F

17

9

7

5

A

9

7

5

17

Pts

11

9

9

4

P

6

6

6

6

Liverpool

Paris Saint-Germain

Liverpool

Crvena Zvezda

Paris Saint-Germain

Liverpool

3-2

1-0

4-0

2-0

2-1

1-0

Paris Saint-Germain

Liverpool

Crvena Zvezda

Liverpool

Liverpool

Napoli

ROUND OF 16

Liverpool

Bayern München

0-0

1-3

Bayern München

Liverpool

Spurs win 3-1 on aggregate

QUARTER-FINALS

Liverpool

Porto

2-0

1-4

Porto

Liverpool

Spurs win 6-1 on aggregate

SEMI-FINALS

Barcelona

Liverpool

3-0

4-0

Liverpool

Barcelona

Spurs win 4-3 on aggregate

TOP SCORERS

Roberto Firmino

Sadio Mané

Mohamed Salah

4

4

4

MINUTES PLAYED

Alisson Becker

Sadio Mané

Virgil Van Dijk

1080

1062

990

PASSES COMPLETED

Virgil Van Dijk

Andy Robertson

James Milner

622 (90%)

494 (80%)

468 (81%)

'AS LOUD AS ANYTHING

I'VE EVER HEARD'

For Chris Pajak, co-founder of The Redmen TV, the 4-0 win against Barcelona ranks as Anfield’s greatest European night

Bill Shankly once talked about the Holy Trinity at a football club of the players, the manager and the supporters. It’s back and more evident than at any point in the last 30 years. We’ve got lads on the pitch who are playing for the badge on the front of the shirt, we’ve got a manager in Jürgen Klopp who loves us as much as we love him and the fans are united behind this team. 

Nothing showed that more than against Barça. After losing 3-0 away, what followed was THE greatest European night at Anfield. Something I and many others will tell our kids and grandkids about. Heading into that game, I was deflated. I didn’t give us a chance. What do I know? How did I ever count these lads out? I should know better. It was greeting the team coach when it arrived at Anfield that changed my mood. Thousands strong, we sang our hearts out. That was when I knew something was possible.

What came next was truly epic. It was as loud as anything I’ve ever heard. Barça’s first mistake was letting Luis Suárez take the kick-off: that antagonised us. The noise was deafening. What followed was a systematic, professional obliteration of one of Europe’s great footballing superpowers. Even the great Lionel Messi could do nothing to stop it. It felt special because it was. This was Liverpool dominating a Barcelona side like no other before them. Barça knew it was over even before we did. Our team was standing on the shoulders of the fans that adore them. At the final whistle, players were strewn all over the pitch in delight and exhaustion. We, in the stands, were in the same boat. Tears – so many tears – of joy. Our voices were broken and hoarse. 

We knew this was deserved. Hard work pays off. Heart, determination, drive, a will to win and, above all, skill. Klopp knows he’s building something unique and special. Us fans know it too. 

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