They really never stop. This irrepressible Liverpool team just keeps going, because they keep producing logic-defying brilliance. It takes them to Madrid and a second successive Champions League final, after reducing Barcelona to spectacular collapse for the second successive season. Disaster on one side, a football miracle on the other. There are no other ways to describe it. There's barely a way to comprehend it, even for a stadium that has seen as much glorious history as Anfield.
If this 4-3 aggregate win was almost impossible to process, it was ultimately because Jurgen Klopp displayed a presence of thought beyond anyone, to bring out a level of performance from his team beyond anyone else in Europe. Certainly beyond a dismal Barca, who completely deserved this most humiliating of defeats. A number of second-string Liverpool players – not least the two-goal match-winning hero Divock Origi – gave one of the game's greatest ever players one of his worst ever nights as Leo Messi was left ashen-faced. By the end, he felt as absent as Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. Those facts made Liverpool's win all the more wondrous, Barcelona's defeat all the more shambolic.
If the Catalans thought last season at Roma was bad, this was so much worse, as they were just engulfed by what Anfield is; what Liverpool are.
That will bring all manner of justified questions about the mentality of this Barcelona team, but should mean there is no doubt about Liverpool’s. They play without doubt, without hesitation. Klopp has instilled this team with irrepressible resolve. What is so incredibly impressive is that nothing can seem to suppress them; nothing can seem to cow them. Not another Manchester City win, not a 3-0 deficit. This was the spirit of Istanbul, and then some.
This was a story of supreme belief, but to reduce the story of this game to that would be too simplistic. Liverpool were too special.
The anatomy of this most incredible of wins was really about the mind of Klopp, and the legs of his team; speed of thought mixed with speed of play to blow Barca away. That, really, was the only way to do it.
The deficit was so big it really didn’t bear thinking about too deeply, since that could only bring doubt, so Liverpool played at a pace where it was almost impossible to think at all. Barcelona certainly struggled to.
Liverpool certainly started fast, with that goal after just seven minutes. In front of a deafening Anfield crowd, and against a defiant Liverpool approach, the Catalans initially seemed caught by surprise and were thereby too often caught out.
They naturally attempted to take the pace out of the game in response, but that just meant they weren’t up to speed when Liverpool came crashing into them. Barca just didn’t have the same intensity.
That was never clearer than for the opening goal, although Sadio Mane did show supreme presence of mind to out-think Jordi Alba. Anticipating that the wing-back would look to head the ball back to maintain possession, Mane stood off him and then so quickly stepped in, before so delightfully lifting the ball over despairing legs to play in Jordan Henderson. His snapshot was stopped, but Origi responded like lightning to finish. That was the feel of the night. Barca couldn’t get into it, Messi couldn’t get on it.
Already infuriated by a risky early altercation with Robertson, the Argentine soon found himself completely inundated by challenges and snaps. Virgil van Dijk would first challenge him before James Milner came in to nick the ball off him.
Messi is composed enough to ensure such attention doesn’t cow him and he did restore some control for Barca to have their best chances of the first half. He shot just wide twice, Philippe Coutinho brought a fine save from Alisson, before Luis Suarez brought a brilliant one. There was then the spectacle of the Uruguayan fouling Robertson, to bring the ironic sound of the Kop singing “f**k off Suarez!”
If there was a sense at this point Liverpool had blown too much of their energy, and thereby blown their chance, it was really only the necessary lull. It was the wind-back, the big build-up. It was when Klopp showed his own presence of mind to get his side accelerating again.
Wijnaldum was introduced to the game, and Barca were introduced to a whole new level of chaos. They were still just too slack against Liverpool’s utter focus, most notably Alba. He was again caught labouring on the ball in the 54th minute, this time by Trent Alexander-Arnold. The full-back just continued forward, powered the ball into the box, and there was Wijnaldum coming in like an express train.
Barca just couldn’t match that force, couldn’t rise to it. And before they could even register what had happened, they were fully pegged back, their lead blown to smithereens along with their sense of selves. Xherdan Shaqiri crossed, and Wijnaldum was there again. Barca were nowhere, Messi was nowhere.
And there was still the moment to sum up the game and win the tie. It was of course some of the stupidest defending you’ll see from Barca, but also some of the sharpest attacking you’ll see from Liverpool.
With the Catalans again incomprehensibly distracted despite the dismal situation, Alexander-Arnold appeared to walk away from a corner only to immediately run back and so simply pass it for Origi to take the easiest of finishes. It was a moment that was at once so elevated, and so elementary. Liverpool had reduced Barcelona to that. Liverpool had risen to this, another Champions League final, on a night like no other.
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