What happened? “Football.”
The one-word response from Jurgen Klopp somehow summed up yet another breathtaking night at Anfield.
With the team missing three of its most vital performers in Mo Salah, Bobby Firmino and Naby Keita, the three goal deficit left for The Reds after the first leg was so insane that it somehow made us feel more confident. It was a set-up made for this crazy club.
Who would the manager piece together to take on this herculean task? It almost didn’t matter. There was talk of teenage striker Rhian Brewster getting his debut against Barcelona. That’s about the only improbable thing that was missing on the night.
Klopp went with Divock Origi, Sadio Mané and Shaqiri up front with Jordan Henderson and James Milner as the 8’s and Fabinho manning the middle with the usual back five. Every man in the line-up would have their impact on the match. Even Salah’s “Never Give Up” t-shirt must have played a role.
Every Liverpool supporter knew the formula. Hit them early. Get them on the back foot and then chip away.
Hit them we did with several chances coming early on and a goal in the 7th minute. Ter Stegen saved an awkwardly scuffed ball from Jordan Henderson from point-blank range but couldn’t hold on and the Belgian was there to fire home the rebound.
Another chance came right after that with Origi nearly beating Ter Stegen to a ball on the edge of his box. Then Mané was clipped from behind, a clear penalty that the ref somehow missed. No worries; Champions League matches have VAR… or do they? Despite the obvious penalty, the pantomime outline of a replay booth never came.
The three chances came in such a flurry that it would have been fair if you wondered; was that it? Did we miss our moment?
Andy Robertson was all over the place in the first half, barking at Barca players, slapping Messi in the head when he was on the ground begging for yet another call. With time running out in the first, Robertson was chasing our old friend Luis Suárez when the Barcelona striker stuck a leg behind, injuring our ever-present fullback.
Gini Wijnaldum would replace Robertson as the teams came out for the second half. Jurgen Klopp had been on a helluva streak, selecting impact sub after impact sub and soon enough, Gini would put his imprint on the proceedings. At 54 and 56 minutes, the Dutchman would make us believe again. First, making a late run through the center of the box, Trent Alexander-Arnold found Wijnaldum with a little help from a deflection, finishing down the centre of the net and wrestling the ball back from Ter Stegen to retain as much time as possible. The prolific Wijnaldum, then lost Piqué while Milner and Shaqiri worked the ball around on the left side. Eventually The Power Cube, who had been lampooned on LFC Twitter for the first 45, put in an absolute peach of a cross, finding Gini for a stunning header to even the aggregate score at 3-3.
Should Liverpool hold on? Should they keep pressing for yet another goal?
Jurgen’s men played incredibly well down the stretch, limiting Barcelona’s opportunities while creating their own. And, on 79 minutes, Anfield delivered a bit of magic. With Trent Alexander-Arnold lining up for a corner and Shaqiri jogging to take his place an extra ball was passed through the players in front of goal an out to a ballboy. Trent stepped off the corner for a moment, saw that Barcelona’s players were distracted, spun, crossed, Origi, side-foot, goal, bedlam.
What scenes. There was still significant time left to play, but Barcelona couldn’t really muster anything too frightening. For all of their ability to create something from nothing, con the refs, they couldn’t seem to pull much of anything together in front of the Anfield crowd.
Several Alisson clearances and a Daniel Sturridge substitution took a lot of the remaining time off and then it happened, the whistle went and Liverpool were on their way to a second consecutive Champions League final.
No Mo. No Naby. No Bobby. No help from the ref. Brewster and Woodburn on our bench. 4-0 against Barcelona in the second leg of a Champions League semi-final.
Every player was incredible in their own way. Joel Matip and Fabinho had so many small moments along the way to hold their stars in check. Sadio Mané wasn’t the star tonight, but he was a constant threat and tracked back like a mad-man.
What more can you say? Football.
Up The Unstoppable Reds!
This just happened pic.twitter.com/1VwFFg07fF
— Neil Jones (@neiljonesgoal) May 7, 2019