This wasn’t supposed to happen… But remember Barcelona had form, they went to Roma only a year ago with a 4-1 lead and failed… Whilst Liverpool, they have been having European nights like this at Anfield since… Well let’s just say it’s in their DNA.
It was supposed to be a routine nights work for Barca who only needed to score one goal and Liverpool would have needed a hugely improbable five. But Ernesto Valverde’s men looked nervous from the off, they played with fear unlike any Barcelona team that I have seen previously? Jordi Alba the world’s best left back in my opinion looked like a rabbit caught in headlights… That fear spread throughout the side and the stick or twist game plan was never even contemplated let alone enforced. Liverpool dictated the pace, the pressing, the precision, the fight. The Anfield outfit was the Matador whilst Barcelona very much the Bull. There could be only one outcome in the end.
Ask any Liverpool fan prior to kick off ‘if they had a chance’ and they would of course say “Yes”… Ask any of them if they ‘believed’ Liverpool could do it, deep down I’m not so sure? This after all was claimed to be the biggest task of all. Beating AC Milan in Istanbul from 3-0 down in the final of 2005 was nothing compared to this? The significant difference is that Barcelona have the best player in the world. Keeping him quiet AND scoring three goals without reply wasn’t mission impossible, but really was a mission improbable.
But Liverpool are the better team. They have a better goalkeeper, better full backs, they have the best centre half, the midfield dynamics are better and the front three (when all fit) is arguably the best front three in world football. In contrast Barcelona have Messi…
In the first leg at the Nou Camp Liverpool dictated possession, they played the better football, but were caught off guard. To use a boxing analogy they were caught early only to regain consciousness and dominate the fight before getting caught again with a lucky shot. By the time Messi hit his genius free kick and hammered a third knock down Liverpool were left hanging in for the bell and if Dembele had scored it would have been the knock out blow. Lights out Liverpool. Ref stops the fight even before the towel was thrown in.
The return fight however was different. Liverpool dominated early, got their knock down and continued to dominate the fight before two more successive knock downs after the half time bell. It was Barcelona in return who were on the ropes, Quick thinking Liverpool went in for the kill, they had the punching power and were confident enough to go in for one more knock out blow, Barca may have been up on a standing eight count but Liverpool’s defence saw the fight off as Barca’s punching power was exhausted in the latter stages. It was the perfect fight, winning every round of the rematch and certifying their domination. Liverpool over two legs despite the genius of Messi were simply better. Much better in fact, and they deserve their place in history for this remarkable nights work.
Proof that miracles do happen if you believe in yourself and impose what you set out to do.
For Barcelona I ask where do they go from here? They have won a poor La Liga this season by a procession, without playing that well, without really needing to. This is not the Barcelona of old by a long stretch. No longer do they dominate teams winning by five and six, often bailed out by a late goal or two from their great no 10. Their defence often questioned at the highest level still needs a right back, their midfield still needs a playmaker (perhaps the signing of de Jong from Ajax could solve that conundrum) and in attack, despite Suarez and Messi not getting any younger, the issue however is who fills the void left so badly by Neymar? Dembele has failed, Coutinho has failed, Malcolm has failed… Valverde has the greatest player of a generation at his disposal, but Barcelona haven’t been to a Champions League final for 4 years now? Perhaps harshly Valverde has failed?
As for Liverpool? Well is this just the beginning? Jurgen Klopp has brought into the Liverpool way, he has invigorated the Anfield Kop and he is demanding a style, an attitude, a confidence, but not an arrogance of his players. Every single one of those Liverpool footballers (playing or not) believe in their Manager and to see a unity like no other in football is inspiring to others watching, this is more than just about winning trophies, sometimes the way football is played can create an even bigger dynasty? Think of the Magic Magyars and those magnificent Hungarians of Puskas, Kocsics and co in the 1950’s… Think the Cruyff era and the 74 Dutch National team or Brazil 82, Socrates, Zico et al and put Liverpool’s current crop on the pedestal with them all.
From goalkeeper to stand in centre forward everyone of them should take huge credit for the way they went about their business. Nonetheless the English trident of Trent Alexander-Arnold who was world class on the night and maturing into one of the best in his position, the never-ageing James Milner who is the model footballer and is exemplary in how he plays the game in whatever position the manager asks of him, and the unsung hero and skipper Jordan Henderson who works harder than most often without recognition. With a solid spine and a stunning strike force and a squad full in depth of quality it now feels only a matter of time that Liverpool will win silverware under their German Orchestrator Klopp. It may not be the Premier League title come Sunday, but by the end of this month being crowned European Champions for the sixth time in the clubs history will no doubt be an adequate substitute.