Liverpool’s Road to Madrid
After the heartbreak of Kiev last year, Liverpool are just 90 minutes away from a sixth European Cup with Tottenham Hotspur standing in the way. In a path full of comebacks, shocks and heroic performances, Kris Gourlay looks at The Reds’ road to Madrid.
Lionel Messi stood over the ball. 35 yards out and with his Barcelona team already 2-0 at the Camp Nou, the ball dipped and curled into Alisson’s top right corner. Liverpool’s Champions League vengeance mission was seemingly over before the return leg at Anfield a week later. This was Jurgen Klopp’s reds, though. Throughout his time at the club, he has turned doubters into believers and everyone inside Anfield a week later believed an extraordinary comeback was not out of the question.
As the chorus of You’ll never walk alone rang out inside Anfield moments before kick-off, it was apparent that the home crowd were actually expecting some sort of comeback, never mind praying for one. That’s the sort of belief Klopp had injected into this club.
An early goal on the night was vital for the Reds. It would give the players and the crowd true belief and hopefully send the Barcelona players into a frenzy of panic, as memories of Rome just a year ago would come flooding back to them.
This is exactly what happened. A misplaced header from Jordi Alba allowed Sadio Mane to release the ball to captain, Jordan Henderson, who forced a save from Ter-Stegen, but only for the ball to end up at the feet of Divock Origi, attempting to fill the boots of Roberto Firmino, he made no mistake and poked the ball into an empty net to make it 1-0 inside 7 minutes, 3-1 on aggregate.
Each minute that went by was great for Barca and horrible for Liverpool, they still needed two more goal to take it to extra-time. As the crowd got more involved, the home side were rewarded for their non-stop effort once again. Trent Alexander-Arnold won the ball from Jordi Alba on the right-hand side and fizzed in a low cross, met by Gini Wijnaldum on the edge of the box who fired in a low shot that somehow found its way into the net.
Just minutes later, Shaqiri fed the ball into the box for Wijnaldum to pounce once more, out jumping his defender and directing his header into the top corner. Anfield erupted. Wijnaldum, who didn’t even start the game but came on for the injured Robertson at half-time had just made one of the most influential substitute performances of all time.
On the 79th minute, Liverpool had a corner on the right-hand side. As Shaqiri walked over to take it, Trent saw Origi unmarked in the box, so he quickly fed the ball into the box for Origi to direct into the corner in what has to be one of the most audacious corners football has ever seen. Most of the crowd cheered, while some took a second to take in what had just happened. Shaqiri was still walking towards the corner when Trent passed the ball to Origi, the Barcelona players were still shouting commands at one and other, nobody on the pitch could quite believe what had just happened, except Trent.
Liverpool closed out the last 10 minutes and went on to win 4-0 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate in one of the craziest, action-packed games I’ve ever seen to this day. As the team stood in a line their rendition or You’ll never walk alone with the crowd, you just thought there are very few clubs in the world, if any, that could recreate this historical night.
The victory over Barcelona was not the only exceptional show of professionalism in Liverpool’s 2018-19 Champions League campaign. They faced Bayern Munich in the round of 16 and played without their rock at the back, Virgil Van Dijk in the first leg due to suspension, meaning Fabinho partnered Joel Matip at centre back as Klopp’s team grinded out a 0-0 at Anfield, giving the advantage to Bayern in the 2nd leg.
At the Allianz Arena, Liverpool performed one of their great Champions League performances and continued their love affair with the competition since Klopp took over, winning 3-1 on the night thanks to a Sadio Mane brace and a Van Dijk header.
Liverpool then faced Porto in the Quarter-finals, the same team they faced in the round of 16 last year and blew away in Portugal with an emphatic 5-0 win in the first leg. This year, Porto had a much more experienced team.
Liverpool were at home for the first leg and ran out 2-0 winners on the night, nothing spectacular but enough to set them on their way to the semi-finals.
In the 2nd leg, the Reds carried out a more convincing performance and ended up putting 4 past the home side to secure the all-important semi-final showdown with Barcelona, which most fans were thinking about after the first leg at Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp’s team didn’t have an easy ride during the group stages either, 3 consecutive away losses to PSG, Napoli and Red Star made it an uphill climb to secure their fate in the competition. Klopp’s team always fights till the bitter end, though. Home wins against all 3 teams got them to the round of 16, courtesy of a Mo Salah winner vs Napoli on the final game week. Alisson’s save to deny Milik and Napoli an equaliser in that game will continue to be a talking point in their campaign, as will Roberto Firmino’s late winner at Anfield against PSG, where they looked to have let the French side back into the game after being 2-0 up, for it to be 2-2 heading into the final minutes. Then up stepped Firmino. He doesn’t score as regularly as most of the top 6’s strikers but he is what makes Klopp’s team so special. His movement in attack and constant pressing allows the freedom of Salah and Mane to score the majority of the goals.
Tottenham Hotspur await Liverpool in the final. A final that even the more ambitious of fans would never have thought possible. Spurs scrapped past Manchester City in the quarter finals and then beat Ajax in spectacular fashion, coming from 3 goals down to win it in the second leg in Holland. The spirit and passion that Mauricio Pochettino carries over to his team is incredible. The club have struggled to get support from the hierarchy in recent seasons and have been forced to make do with the resources they have. They also completed a comeback similar to Liverpool’s without their star-striker Harry Kane.
Both these teams have had a special run to the final, but only one can take the trophy home and I think everyone who loves football can agree that whoever the loser is in the night, they are still a winner for football.
Klopp since joining Liverpool has suffered defeat in all 3 finals he has reached, including a heart-breaking 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League last year. He has also carried his team to within one point of lifting the Premier League trophy this year, so to lose yet another final will be a truly sorry sight.
Pochettino has warmed the hearts of every neutral football fan in the world, his ambition and desire to take Spurs to the next level is unquestionable and to lift the Champions League trophy under the circumstances his team have found themselves under this season will go down as one of football’s biggest achievements in recent times. Over to you, Madrid.