This was the supposed to be the competition that mattered the least of the two that remained in the last days of Liverpool’s epic 2018-2019 season but over the course of 99 extraordinary minutes, suddenly it felt like this team, in this time, had found their calling at last.
No team comes back from three down to score four without reply against Barcelona in the second leg of a Champions League semi-final without wondering if the hand of destiny is not ushering them down an alternative path to glory. Monday night and Manchester City edged the Premier League just a little further from Liverpool’s grasp and then came Tuesday night when the response of Anfield was, quite frankly, stupendous.
This kind of comeback in a Champions league semi-final has never happened before against anyone, let along the Barcelona of the era of Lionel Messi, a man on a mission and having greatly declared his genius in the conclusion of the first leg. That this comeback happened without Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, assorted others, plus Jordan Henderson on one leg and Andy Robertson carted off at half-time will just add to the legend.
It was Robertson’s replacement, Georginio Wijnaldum who got goals two and three in the second half and the matchwinning hero was another dedicated occasional, Divock Origi – Jurgen Klopp’s specialist in the improbable. He struck his first on seven minutes, and the second with 11 minutes remaining and perhaps the greatest miracle Klopp has achieved is that in between times he was the best striker on the pitch, in some company.
Madrid on June 1, will be the ninth European Cup final of Liverpool’s history, this one against Tottenham Hotspur or Ajax Amsterdam, Klopp’s second in two years, and you have to think that they will be favourites for their sixth title, whoever the opposition. The kings of the comeback might just have outdone themselves this time, and by the end of the night there was no thought given to the league title.
It can take a while for the Champions League to serve up the best stuff but on nights such as these it is worth the wait. This was football played right on the edge, and if Liverpool were the team that had to risk it all then that mood seemed to creep into the way that their opponents played too.
There was a grievance that Messi that carried throughout the game borne of an early tangle with his Scottish equivalent, the Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson. The game’s greatest player spent more time wagging a finger and admonishing his opponent than he usually dedicates to the missteps of mere mortals. It required Jordan Henderson to come running over in the end and shove Messi away although even the Liverpool captain seemed to be asking himself whether he was permitted to lay hands on the man in question.
Whatever Messi did after that seemed to have rather more of a malevolent intent than the usual indifference with which he routinely inflicts pain on the opposition. Alongside him Luis Suarez simply did what he has always done and which he did to some effect at Anfield for a period of his career. In those days, of course, when he was straining every sinew in the Liverpool cause it really felt that he could do no wrong in their eyes but you suspect that they knew not all of it was right.