Liverpool stage sensational comeback to beat Barcelona and reach final
Daniel Taylor at Anfield
Tue 7 May 2019 21.55 BST
'I will remember this forever': Klopp hails Liverpool after Barça comeback.
Of all the incredible nights at Anfield, where does this one count? It has to be at the very top, presumably, given who they were playing, the importance of the occasion and the overwhelming feeling, despite everything this stadium has witnessed over the years, that Liverpool have never quite managed anything this spectacular before, with the floodlights on and the European Cup as the target.
That is some honour for Jürgen Klopp and his players when you think of all the occasions here that have helped to shape Liverpool’s reputation. They have won this trophy five times and now, for a second successive year, they will be going to another final with the chance to make it six. It was nothing short of extraordinary – one of the all-time Champions League comebacks and a reminder, amid all the euphoria, about the greatness of this sport, with its capacity to surprise and conjure up barely conceivable storylines.
It finished with the Liverpool players, arm in arm, standing in front of the Kop to join in with the victory songs. For Barcelona, it will be remembered as one of the more harrowing ordeals of all their years in Europe’s premier club competition. Barça, you may recall, once overcame a 4-0 first-leg deficit against Paris Saint-Germain by winning 6-1 in the return fixture. They will know now what it is like to be on the receiving end of an almost implausible result. And, in fairness to the travelling supporters, they recognised greatness: long after the final whistle had sounded, with the stadium finally starting to clear and the man in charge of the music deciding it was time for some John Lennon, the Catalan fans in the far corner broke into spontaneous applause, clapping their Liverpudlian counterparts. It was some moment.
More fool anyone, perhaps, who had thought the occasion was beyond this team. Klopp’s heroes had begun the night with a 3-0 deficit and were without Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino from their usual frontline. They were also, lest it be forgotten, facing a collection of players, led by some chap by the name of Lionel Messi, who were trying to win their third treble in a decade and their fifth European Cup in 13 years. And, as if that was not enough, there was the added pressure that suddenly, with Manchester City back on top of the Premier League, there was the distinct possibility that a season of sustained brilliance would end with no reward.
Perhaps they used that for extra motivation. Liverpool had levelled the match 3-3 on aggregate by the 56th minute courtesy of Divock Origi’s early breakthrough and two in quick succession from the substitute Georginio Wijnaldum. All the time, there was the danger posed by Messi, Luis Suárez and Philippe Coutinho, among others. Messi alone must have had half a dozen attempts at goal and, always, there was the realisation that one goal for Barça would mean Liverpool needing five.
It made for a tremendous spectacle, full of everything that makes football so absorbing, and culminating in the decisive moment, in the 79th minute, when Trent Alexander-Arnold took a quick corner and only one player was tuned in. It was Origi, again, clipping his shot past Marc-André ter Stegen for a goal Anfield will never forget.
Another team might have shrunk because of what happened to them at the Camp Nou. Not Liverpool, though. Anfield always cranks up the volume on the European nights and Origi’s first goal, seven minutes in, had come early enough to fill the stadium with the belief that, yes, it could happen.
Sadio Mané, in particular, played as though affronted by the suggestion the tie could not be salvaged. Fabinho chose an ideal time to put in possibly his best performance in Liverpool’s colours and Wijnaldum can reflect on a hugely satisfying night’s work after replacing the injured Andrew Robertson at half-time.
His first goal came nine minutes later when Alexander-Arnold lost the ball, then won it back, before firing in a low cross from the right that Wijnaldum, on the run, struck with enough power to find a gap beneath the dive of Ter Stegen.
That made it 3-2 in Barça’s favour and when Wijnaldum followed the ball into the goal to wrestle it off the goalkeeper it summed up Liverpool’s attitude. They knew they could not delay. Wijnaldum wanted a quick restart and in their next attack, two minutes later, he was there to score again when Xherdan Shaqiri crossed from the left. It was a twisting header that dramatically changed the complexion of the match again.
The problem for Liverpool was that Messi rarely lets the big occasions pass him by and, for this one, Klopp did not seem to have made any special provisions to restrain the five-times Ballon d’Or winner. Liverpool’s intention primarily was to let Barça worry about them. All of which meant Messi was free to amble into pockets of space, then suddenly the ball would be with him and he would pick up speed – a blur of fluorescent yellow followed by a clutch of players wearing all red.
As for Suárez, the crowd did not bother with any superficial niceties as the Uruguayan returned to the ground where they once cherished his Machiavellian traits. “Fuck off Suárez,” came the hissed chant, over and again, from the supporters who had once afforded him something close to deification.
Eventually, though, the crowd could forget about Suárez. Liverpool attacked in blitzes and Barça seemed unprepared judging by the misplaced header from Jordi Alba that let in Mané in the buildup to the opening goal. Mané picked up the loose ball and played in Jordan Henderson, running through the middle, for the initial shot. Ter Stegen managed to get his hand to Henderson’s shot but Origi was following up to put in the rebound.
When Origi made it 4-0 there were still 11 minutes of normal play to go, plus another five from stoppages. Alisson was tremendous in Liverpool’s goal and the best compliment for Joël Matip was that he matched the performance of Virgil van Dijk, his partner in central defence. Not even Messi could save Barça and Liverpool, on this evidence, will take some stopping when they face either Ajax or Tottenham at the Wanda Metroplitano in Madrid on 1 June.
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