How The Power of Anfield Helped Liverpool Crush Barcelona
Even before kick-off, it was apparent that the Anfield crowd was ready.
A healthy crowd gathered outside the stadium — as is customary on big European nights — to soundtrack the team’s bus’ entrance, defiantly lifting their player’s morale when it appeared to all that they were flogging a dead horse.
3-0 down to Barcelona from the first leg, Liverpool — who were shorn of 2/3’s of their potent attacking trio, Mohamed Salah, and Roberto Firmino — were given a snowball’s chance in hell of overturning their deficit and qualifying for a second successive Champions League final.
The visitors — whose three-goal first-leg advantage massively flattered them — rocked up to L4 with the advantage of having already wrapped up the La Liga title and, having rested their entire squad for the proceeding dead-rubber league game, were expected to win and to contest European Football’s showcase game for the first time since their treble campaign of 2014-2015. Liverpool, meanwhile, still in the midst of a title challenge with Manchester City played an energy-absorbing game away to Newcastle United only a few days previous.
The Reds, buoyed on by the feral atmosphere of their home fans, had other ideas, though, and it was apparent from the very first whistle that it would be — at the very least — an uncomfortable night for Barcelona, and not the procession many would have envisioned.
Luis Suarez’s histrionics and play-making had drawn the ire of many of Liverpool’s player’s in the first half of the tie in Catalonia and the Uruguayan taking the kick-off that started the game was the red rag to the 54,000 bulls stationed in the four stands of the famous Merseyside Colosseum.
A cacophony of boos, jeers and whistles greeted every one of Suarez’s touches and his diving did not ingratiate him to the supporters who once idolized him. Likewise, Phillipe Coutinh0 — who had left Liverpool in acrimonious circumstances a year earlier — was also on the receiving end of a torrent of decibel shattering intimidation.
Anfield was always going to be abuzz on the night of a European Cup semi-final, but the sight of two formers Reds — who had either blotted their copybooks and fallen down in the fan’s estimations by the manner of which they left the club, Coutinho, or the way they conducted themselves in both games, Suarez — not only lit the fuze of the supporter’s enthusiasm but doused it in petrol.
The proliferation of stats in modern footballing discourse means that many seek to break the game down in granular detail and, as worthy as an endeavour as that — Liverpool have built their success on such nerd lead analytics — is it doesn’t take into account the intangibles that a crowd can bring; the psychological lift they can bring to their players and the mental pistol-whipping they can inflict on their opponents.
For Barcelona, the Anfield atmosphere was a sedative; for Liverpool, it was a heady cocktail of inspiration and drive that lifted them to complete one of the most unlikely European comebacks since the Reds — it’s always them, isn’t it? — shocked Milan to win their fifth European Cup in 2005.
Holding a 1-0 lead at half time, thanks to a Divock Origi goal — tapping in from a Jordan Henderson shot — the second-half introduction of Georginio Wijnaldum was the catalyst for the Reds to go into overdrive.
The Dutchman, who replaced the injured Andrew Robertson — in a tactical rejig that saw James Milner switch to left-back — best personified the crowd. Usually boasting a broad smile and affable personality, Wijnaldum entered the fray with a hardened scowl on his face. Frustrated after being dropped after the unenviable task of playing out of position in the Camp Nou — the former Newcastle man had played as the false 9 in the stead of the injured Firmino — the Liverpool number 5, showing a symbiosis between himself and the fans — tore into the Spanish champions; scoring twice and hustling and harrying like a man possessed by the spirit of Anfield.
After the game, a Barcelona club documentary showed the disconsolate scenes in the away teams dressing room — where Jordi Alba, in particular, was distraught at the manner of the defeat — and it was clear from their limp and defeatist body language after the third Reds’ goal that it would be a matter of when, not if, Liverpool would add to their fourth goal.
And with 11 minutes remaining, the fourth goal came.
Trent Alexander – Arnold — boyhood fan as he is, doubtlessly would have been in situ at Anfield as a supporter if it wasn’t for the fact that he was blessed with a God-given ability to play football — noticing the beleaguered Barcelona players, who physically and mentally had been beaten up all evening, played a quickly taken corner that Origi swept home.
Anfield erupted like a bottle of Coke jam-packed with Mentos and, even with Lionel Messi — the greatest player of all-time leading their attack — and ample time to score the tie sealing goal, Barcelona was out for the count and Liverpool progressed to the Champions League final.
Jurgen Klopp, the architect of the reawakening of the Kop, was laughed at for assembling his players to receive the plaudits of the supporters after his team rescued a 2-2 draw against West Bromwich Albion in 2016. Surely, it was said, a club of Liverpool’s stature should never celebrate a point against lowly side in such a manner.
But it was Klopp laying the foundation for nights like the 7th of May 2019 to be able to happen, showing the fans that they — along with the players — had a role in controlling the fate of the team and encouraging them that their support mattered.
Having managed Borussia Dortmund — a club whose fans are renowned for their passion — the German is well aware that his style of committed, physically draining and emotional football needs the chorus of fans to succeed; and in the 4-0 thrashing of Barcelona, the world was given a living, breathing example of the power of Anfield.