In what may go down as the greatest ever Champions League semi-final comeback, Liverpool have dismantled Barcelona 4-0 on Tuesday at Anfield to return to the final.
The Reds faced a Herculean task from the outset having lost 3-0 at the Nou Camp in the first leg, and their hopes were dealt a further blow in the lead-up to this one with both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino ruled out through injury.
Divock Origi made an instant impact in their place, bundling in Jordan Henderson’s saved shot after Jordi Alba’s errant header seven minutes in.
Georginio Wijnaldum emerged from the bench at the interval after Andrew Robertson picked up a knock and turned the game on its head.
Not yet 10 minutes on the pitch, Wijnaldum thundered in a low cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold and two minutes later arrowed a marvellous header past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen to level the tie.
As all things began to point towards extra-time, an incredible piece of ingenuity from Alexander-Arnold sent the Kop into sheer delirium.
The young right-back spotted Barcelona lacking concentration at a corner and fired it in early to Origi at the front post, and the Belgian’s first-time strike was too much for a retreating Gerard Pique to clear off the line.
The Blaugrana searched for a vital away goal to take them to the final, but with their raucous home support behind them it was Liverpool’s night, as the held firm for a legendary win.
European nights at Anfield
Olympiakos ’04, Real Madrid ’09, Dortmund ’16, Manchester City ’18. These four fixtures are synonymous with Liverpool folklore in their rich history in Europe, and Barcelona ’19 might just shoot right to the top.
At 3-0 down against a team boasting Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, Liverpool looked down and out.
Jurgen Klopp spoke pre-game about his side’s determination and their unwillingness to ever give up, no matter the score line, and they beat Barcelona with spirit and tenacity.
While Alisson was forced into a couple of big saves, the visitors never came close to matching Liverpool physically and in terms of hunger.
After an incredible Premier League season and now another trip to the Champions League final, Klopp and his team continue to etch their name into the Liverpool history books.
Barcelona drop the ball
Ernesto Valverde’s side should not have allowed Liverpool a sniff in this game. After putting such a commanding score on the board in the first leg, it was theirs to lose and they lost it.
From the opening whistle, they were timid and lacklustre. Alba, considered one of the best full-backs in the game for many a year now, presented the Reds a gift in the opening stages and continued to be sloppy on the ball.
That early error set the tone for the rest of the game for the Blaugrana as they were unable to string together their usual swift passing moves and work their way out of Liverpool’s harrying press.
Messi hardly had a touch of the ball, Coutinho and Suarez were passengers on their former stomping ground and that was due to the inability of the midfield and defence to win the ball back in good areas and execute going forward.
Twice in two seasons now, Barcelona have thrown away strong first leg positions in European ties after their incredible defeat to Roma in the quarter-finals last season.
No Salah, No Firmino: No Worries
With their two big stars out, many thought Liverpool would succumb to the Spanish champions -maybe win the match itself but not the aggregate tie – but the squad stepped up in their absence.
Origi’s Liverpool career was thought to be over having failed to get a loan move in the summer and not featuring until November, but he has since earned his place as the next in line up front for the Reds.
Not only in scoring the two goals, Origi was fantastic from minute one. He held up the ball well and showed great movement, and it was only fitting that he be the one to deliver the telling blow.
Wijnaldum continues to fly under the radar since joining Klopp’s team in 2016, but to those who pay attention he is asserting himself as a high-class midfielder.
His engine is superb, he gets up and down the pitch, but the one thing that he has been criticised for is his lack of goals.
He is adept at making the late runs into the box that saw him profit for his first strike, and perhaps this will give him the confidence to push on and do it more often.
Those two were the match winners, but the whole Liverpool team was fantastic. Joel Matip made an excellent challenge on Messi in the box, Virgil van Dijk won everything that came his way, Alexander-Arnold chipped in with two assists.
Klopp will have nothing but pride for his team and be ecstatic with the showing of character from each of his squad members who pulled their weight and contributed to an incredible victory.
One more to go
After all that, there is still a final to be played in Madrid in just over three weeks, and Liverpool will find out tomorrow whether they face Ajax or Tottenham Hotspur for a shot at a sixth European Cup.
Amazing scenes ensued after the final whistle with all the players, even the young kids who were not in the matchday squad, and the coaches saluted their adoring fans.
Celebration is important, Liverpool deserve their moment, but nothing is won yet. Similar celebrations broke out after they knocked out Roma last year, and they went on to have their hearts broken in the final against Real Madrid.
Klopp is 0-3 in finals since joining Liverpool, and this time he must not allow any premature celebrations that will distract his team from reaching the ultimate prize as they seek redemption after last years loss.