Moments of 2018: Liverpool’s road to Kiev
In the first of our 2018 review series, Kris Gourlay looks back on a memorable Champions League campaign for Liverpool, as they hunted down the famous trophy for a sixth time.
Choosing your team getting to a final, and losing, may seem like a flimsy moment of 2018, but the manor in which Liverpool stunned the whole competition, barring Real Madrid, was incredible to witness as a life-long fan.
In the group stages, it looked like the Liverpool of old. A draw against Sevilla where we could have scored 10 and another stalemate against Spartak Moscow, it looked like we were destined for a battle to get out of the group, the easiest possible group available, too.
Suddenly, our front 3 started firing on all cylinders, the goals were pouring in. A 7-0 thrashing of Maribor, followed by a 3-0 win at Anfield against Spartak Moscow, in which I was present for my first Anfield experience. Another draw to Sevilla in Spain put us in a good way to top the group and we finished off with another 7-0 display against Spartak Moscow.
In the round of 16 we were drawn against Porto, a challenge, but certainly beatable. A 5-0 hammering in their own back garden set us up for the second leg perfectly, avoid a complete meltdown and we’re in the Quarter-finals. A 0-0 was enough to get the job done for us, we would go on to play fellow premier league high-flyers Manchester City.
It was Pep vs Klopp, the famous rivalry which originated in Germany. We had already given City a hammering at Anfield prior to the tie, but they had also humbled us at the Etihad, so over two legs, it was really anyone’s to win. The first leg produced a magical Anfield night that we had become accustomed to throughout the season.
A dominant performance saw us prevail 3-0, an extremely healthy advantage heading to the Etihad. The second leg was a nerve-wracking 90 minutes. City took the lead in the first 5 minutes of the game to set themselves up for a great European comeback, but we scored 2 in the second half to come out 5-1 winners on aggregate. Next up, Roma in the Semi-finals.
Similar to the Man City tie, Liverpool set themselves up for the second leg against Roma with a typical 5-2 Anfield performance. The game had been 5-0 until the last 5 minutes where we collapsed at the back, giving Roma a slight glimmer of hope for the second leg. Roma did in fact win the second leg 4-2 but the first leg performance was enough to see us into our first Champions League final in 11 years.
Then came the mighty collapse. The final was against Real Madrid, the winners of the competition in 2016 and 2017, but we were as confident as a team could be, considering the season we were having. After Madrid took the lead early in the second half, Sadio Mane equalised to give us Liverpool fans something to shout about. The goal was over-shadowed by the fact that star-man Mo Salah had to be taken off due to a shoulder injury, a real blow to the team as before half-time, we looked a real threat to Madrid. In the second half, goalkeeper Loris Karius had his famous meltdown. After gifting Madrid the lead by throwing the ball against Karim Benzema and into the net, he also failed to collect a shot from Gareth Bale that was straight at him to give them a 3-1 advantage. Prior to this, Bale had scored the best goal of the season, an over-head kick from 30-odd yards, typical Liverpool luck.
Although the final was a train-wreck for us and the worst possible outcome after a whole season of success and brilliant memories, the fact we beat the favourites at the time, Man City, and were on-par with Real Madrid for the first half of the final, meant so much to Liverpool and its supporters. After years of cup exits and finishing outside of the top four, Jurgen Klopp had finally brought the glory days back to Anfield, and most of all, made us a team that people actually fear and want to avoid. Hopefully there will be some sort of silverware in the coming years to reward Klopp’s success, but the Champions League final isn’t a bad stepping-stone.