Classic Matches: Liverpool 4 Barcelona 0

On Tuesday the 7th May, 2019, Anfield witnessed its most special European night ever.

Internazionale 1965, Bruges 1976, St. Etienne 1977, Auxerre 1991, Olympiacos 2004, Chelsea 2005 and 2007, Real Madrid 2009, Borussia Dortmund 2016 and Manchester City 2018 will forever be remembered as nights when our famous stadium shook.

Barcelona 2019 eclipsed them all.

There is something else that sets this night apart from all of the others – the Anfield crowd. In each of the games mentioned above, Anfield was at ‘fever pitch’. The crowd was revved up, full of belief and ready to push Liverpool FC over the line. On the night of May 7th though, our mood was different.

Yes, we lined the streets with flags and banners as the team bus made its way to the stadium. We sang our songs and gave the men in red our full backing, but there was an air of inevitability that Barcelona would progress.

Less than 24 hours before, with only twenty minutes remaining, Manchester City were running out of ideas against an organised and resolute Leicester City.  Suddenly, with almost no threat visible, Vincent Kompany let fly from 25 yards and found the top corner of the Leicester net.

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And with it went Liverpool’s hopes of silverware for the season. It was a cruel end to a brilliant season that would amass 97 league points. Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler knew it too, with a delayed, over-the-top commentary to Kompany’s goal. Tyler was looking to replicate his ‘Agueroooooo’ moment from 2012, but missed it by about one second. The goal was like a dagger through the chest of every Liverpool supporter, not helped by Tyler in that moment.

As for the Champions League, 3-0 down to Barcelona from the 1st leg, it was game over.

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And so we would wake on the morning of Tuesday, 7th of May to go about our day with heavy hearts. That night’s Champions League semi-final 2nd leg was merely a hazy footnote at that point.

There was a strong belief that Liverpool would be able to score, maybe even get two or three. But this was coupled with a certainty that Barcelona would score at least one, meaning Jürgen Klopp’s men would need five, which was unimaginable.

When Klopp arrived in the autumn of 2015, one of his first tasks was to get the Anfield crowd and the Liverpool team working in unison. At that time, Anfield could often be quiet. Some supporters would argue that it was up to the players on the field to get the fans excited. Others felt it should be the other way around, that it was up to the crowd to inspire the players. Klopp knew that the solution lay somewhere in the middle and it was up to both to play their parts in the right moments.

On the 7th May 2019, the crowd was superb before the match and at kick-off. But the Liverpool team on the pitch was even better.

We did not fully anticipate the red ferocity that would emerge from the Anfield tunnel, driven on by the almost divine words of their manager who had told his players that going through ‘should be impossible, but because it’s you, there’s a chance’.

Because it’s you, there’s a chance.

Imagine how, as a player, you would feel on hearing those words.

Jordan Henderson led the way, playing like his life depended on every single ball. He set the tone and others followed. That tone was not just one of fire and bluster, but of calm and composure too. This was a Liverpool team who had their bodies in the furnace and their heads in the freezer, exemplified by Trent Alexander-Arnold early on when he coolly controlled a Xherdan Shaqiri clearance that had skewed into the air. As the ball dropped for what seemed an eternity and a nervous Anfield held its breath, with one touch Alexander-Arnold deftly cushioned a beautiful pass down the touchline into the path of Sadio Mané, to a collective round of applause. This told us that this was a fired-up Liverpool team who were in control of themselves. It was a combination which instilled belief in us supporters.

Almost a year previous, two days after the nightmare that was the 2018 Champions League final in Kiev – a pyrrhic victory for Real Madrid – Liverpool announced the signing of Fábio Henrique Tavares, otherwise known as Fabinho. Little did we know at that point just how symbolic this signing would be.

In Kiev, Sergio Ramos was allowed to intimidate and bully his way around the pitch, dislocating the shoulder of Liverpool’s star player, Mo Salah, and concussing our goalkeeper, Loris Karius, who had in fact been playing very well up to that point. Both players’ nights ended in tears.

There was a huge wave of sympathy towards Klopp, Salah and even Karius. This was a Liverpool team that had won many friends and admirers over the previous couple of years, while also being seen as delicate and fragile. Real Madrid exploited that and theirs was the name that would be etched onto the 2018 European Cup.

Liverpool needed to be more ruthless, horrible even, if we were going to be winners. Klopp wasn’t interested in winning friends. He wanted titles.

How apt it was that it would be Fabinho who drove at full force into a tackle on Luis Suarez in the 11th minute. The tackle was fierce, without being reckless. It had venom, without being malicious. It told Suarez, Barcelona and all of us that this Liverpool team were not interested in being popular. Yes, it was a foul, and the yellow card was probably warranted, helped in no small part by Suarez’ theatrics. But it sent a message, a message started by Andy Robertson a few minutes earlier when he aggressively shoved Lionel Messi’s head from behind as the Argentinian sat on the ground, moaning for a free kick. Robertson’s actions admittedly didn’t make for comfortable viewing, but it was representative of a Liverpool team that were telling their opponents they would not be pushed around.

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The night before, as we prayed for Leicester City to hang on at the Etihad, photos emerged of a smiling Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez giving a ‘thumbs up’ beside the Liverpool crest at Anfield. Along with this, Suarez promised us he would not celebrate should he score. This was all very ‘friendly’ from players who had arrived to simply finish the job, but also still wanted the love of Liverpool fans.

And they got it, in some Red quarters, partly because Barcelona were practically already through, so there was no point in bitterness. Besides, we were all too caught up in hoping Leicester could do us the Premier League favour we so desperately wanted.

Anfield, however, immediately caught on to what Klopp’s men were about. If we weren’t quite ‘there’ beforehand, perhaps still lamenting what had happened at Camp Nou and the Etihad, we were now. Henderson brought us there. Fabinho and Robertson brought us there. We lambasted and rebuked Suarez like supporters who had now fully calibrated with the raging desire and belief inside Klopp’s men.

Divock Origi’s opener lit the blue touch paper. The jeers when Barcelona had the ball echoed louder and harder. The roars and cheers when Liverpool won a corner, free kick or when Barcelona gave the ball away were now deafening.

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If anyone had previously doubted that Sadio Mané was world-class, those doubts were now blasted away. The Senegalese attacker was simply immense.

The Catalans did have a five minute spell towards the end of the first quarter where they could’ve, and perhaps should’ve, scored. First Sergio Busquets passed to Messi when it seemed easier for the Spaniard to score himself. Then Coutinho shot tamely at Alisson when through on goal, followed quickly by a drilled Messi shot that flew past the base of Alisson’s left-hand post.

We had weathered the storm and the half ended up quite even after that. Led out from the back by the magnificent Virgil Van Dijk and Joël Matip, Liverpool had recaptured their shape and continued to force Marc-André ter Stegen into smart saves.

Alisson’s performance on the night was superb. The Brazilian stopper made difficult saves look easy – the sign of a truly world-class goalkeeper. This was typified by his save from Jordi Alba on the stroke of half-time, quickly smothering the Barcelona left-back and giving him nothing to shoot at.

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Towards the end of that first half, Suarez had an impudent flick at Andy Robertson. Like Ramos in Kiev the year before, the Uruguayan made it look accidental, but we knew he meant it. The two had been having verbal exchanges from the off. Robertson did not reappear for the 2nd half in what was undoubtedly a huge blow to Liverpool’s hopes. The evergreen James Milner was deployed at left-back and Gini Wijnaldum entered the fray. Maybe Suarez would’ve thought twice about flicking Roberston’s knee if he’d known the impact our Dutch midfielder was about to have. By the 56th minute, a breathtaking Wijnaldum brace inside three minutes had brought Liverpool level, his second a fantastic header from an inch-perfect Shaqiri cross.

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Anfield was rocking to its core.

Liverpool could be forgiven at this point for retreating into their shell and allowing the game to settle. This team smelled blood, though, and they continued to hunt Barcelona. Coutinho, Suarez and Messi looked like haunted figures at this stage. The tie was, however, still on a knife-edge as we knew it would only take one moment of brilliance or luck from the visitors to burst our balloon.

What then happened, with ten minutes remaining, was probably one of the most intelligent things ever seen on a football pitch. Trent Alexander-Arnold placed the ball down at the corner flag in front of The Kop and began to walk away. Shaqiri meandered over to take the would-be in-swinging corner. The Barcelona defence slowly arranged themselves. We relaxed for a moment as we awaited Shaqiri’s corner.

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Suddenly Alexander-Arnold spotted that the entire Barcelona defence was asleep and Divock Origi was unmarked in front of goal. To Shaqiri’s shock, and probable anger, Alexander-Arnold suddenly took the kick himself, laying it perfectly in front of Origi. With no time to think, our Belgian cult hero reacted superbly to somehow control his finish and keep it under the crossbar. Even Jürgen Klopp hadn’t properly seen what just happened.

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Anfield erupted.

None of us could believe what was unfolding. And yet we still could not fully let ourselves go. One Barcelona goal and we were out. The visitors gave brief scares, but nothing on the fright scale of Eidur Gudjohnsen’s miss with the final kick of the game for Chelsea in 2005.

When referee Cüneyt Çakir blew the full-time whistle in the 95th minute, Liverpool players collapsed to the ground, many in prayer. The sheer magnitude of what they had just achieved began to sink in. Mo Salah, who had proudly worn his now-famous t-shirt emblazoned ‘Never Give Up’ from before kick-off, linked up with his manager, the entire Liverpool playing squad and background staff. Together, they hugged and sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in one with the Kop.

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Tears flowed. Hearts pumped stronger than ever – the same hearts that were punctured by Vincent Kompany only 24 hours earlier.

On the morning of Liverpool 4 Barcelona 0, we were at zero.

And that is what made this match so unique. We didn’t expect it. We came empty, yet left never feeling so full in our lives, our hearts almost unable for it all.

Our Egyptian King would get that chance at Champions League final redemption after all, and Anfield would forever remember what happened on Tuesday, 7th May, 2019.

”Because it’s you, there’s a chance.” Jürgen Norbert Klopp

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