Liverpool ECHO’s James Pearce reacts to a special night at Anfield as Liverpool produce a miracle to come back from the dead against Barcelona to return to the Champions League final.
This was a night like no other.
Forget St Etienne, Olympiacos and Chelsea, this staggering, historic achievement belongs in a class of its own.
Anfield folklore has a new thrilling chapter after the Reds booked their passage to the Champions League final in Madrid on June 1 in sensational fashion.
Mighty Barcelona weren’t just beaten but humiliated as Lionel Messi and co succumbed to the power of Anfield. They buckled amidst the deafening din.
During the scenes of pandemonium and joy which followed the final whistle, Klopp’s men looked scarcely able to comprehend what they had just achieved.
The manager, who extended his perfect record in European knockout ties, had asked for “a football party” and to a man players and supporters delivered to stun the La Liga champions. This was Liverpool as one powerful, unstoppable force .
Talk about triumphing in the face of adversity. Written off after that crushing 3-0 defeat in the Nou Camp six days earlier , the Reds had lost Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Naby Keita to injury.
The odds were stacked against them but somehow they produced a performance of breathtaking effort and intensity.
There were heroes all over the pitch. Divock Origi’s early goal set the tone before substitute Gini Wijnaldum struck twice in the space of as many minutes after the break to restore parity in the tie.
Alisson Becker was outstanding throughout as he pulled off a succession of fine saves to deny Barca the away goal they craved.
Captain Jordan Henderson led by example with a display of true grit and desire. Fabinho excelled alongside the skipper.
No wonder Trent Alexander-Arnold was the last Liverpool player to leave the field after the manic celebrations.
The boy from West Derby, who used to peak through the cracks in the walls at Melwood to watch Steven Gerrard train, made the decisive contribution.
The vision, ingenuity and execution of his quickly taken corner caught Barca napping and Origi swept home the fourth. It felt like a work of fiction but this was glorious reality.
Just when Liverpool’s remarkable season looked destined to finish with them empty-handed, they find themselves just 90 minutes away from lifting the European Cup for the sixth time and exorcising the demons of Kiev.
What a chastening night for former Reds duo Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, who suffered at the hands of the Klopp juggernaut. Now Kopites have new icons to adore.
The tone was set before kick-off by the thousands of fans who lined Anfield Road to welcome the team coach, roaring their encouragement as the acrid smell of dozens of red flares filled the air.
In his programme notes Klopp declared: “Here is one thing everyone inside Anfield knows, including our opponents. This Liverpool never stops. This Liverpool never quits. This Liverpool gives everything at all times.”
Salah who turned up wearing a T-shirt with the giant slogan: ‘Never Give Up’. The message got through loud and here. The atmosphere was electric.
Having predicted that he would be greeted with “more applause than whistles”, Suarez faced a rude awakening as he got the contest started to a cacophony of jeers. There was no sentiment here, especially after his disgraceful antics in the Nou Camp.
Hostility abounded and Klopp’s men fed off that energy in the stands during a breathtaking early burst.
Liverpool went for the jugular and Barcelona couldn’t handle what they were hit with. Battles were won all over the field as the combative Reds pressed relentlessly to shut down space.
No respect was shown for big reputations as Robertson infuriated Messi by ruffling his hair. Anfield roared its encouragement and inside seven minutes the Reds were in front.
Jordi Alba’s mistake was pounced on by Sadio Mane and he fed Henderson, who burst through. The captain’s left-footer was parried by Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Origi was on hand to tuck away the rebound. Cue bedlam.
It was the dream start. Liverpool were inspired, Barcelona were rattled. Belief surged through the Reds’ veins.
The hosts got precious little out of Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir. Howls for a penalty were waved away after Mane was clumsily upended by Sergi Roberto. Then Fabinho was harshly booked for a fine challenge on Suarez, who conned the official with his theatrics.
As Liverpool threw caution to the wind, Barca had their chances on the counter. Hearts were in mouths when Alba’s pull-back found Messi but his strike was expertly tipped over by Alisson.
The Reds’ No 1 was at his imperious best and pulled off another smart stop to deny Coutinho.
Cakir repeatedly fell for Barcelona’s shameless playacting with Suarez worse than any of them. When the Uruguayan threw himself to the ground and bought a free-kick after tangling with Virgil van Dijk, he felt the wrath of those who once adored him. Chants of “cheat” were followed by “**** off Suarez” from an enraged Kop.
Andy Robertson’s 25-yarder was turned away by Ter Stegen as Liverpool continued to throw everything at the visitors.
Alba could have dampened the mood in first-half stoppage time but once again Alisson came to the rescue.
Robertson had needed treatment after being caught by Suarez and he didn’t emerge for the second half. Wijnaldum was introduced with Milner switching to left-back.
Attacking the Kop, Liverpool went up a gear and Barcelona looked increasingly uncomfortable. Van Dijk went close from a corner before nine minutes after the interval the Reds’ pressure told.
Alexander-Arnold did brilliantly to win the ball back off Alba and drilled a cross into the box. Wijnaldum epitomised the Reds’ show of desire as he got there ahead of Arturo Vidal to slammer the ball low past Ter Stegen.
The decibel levels were cranked up still further and two minutes later Liverpool were back on level terms in the tie.
Shaqiri whipped in a beauty from wide on the left and Wijnaldum soared at the near post to power a header into the top corner. The inspired Dutchman, who had scored just three times previously all season, had given new meaning to the phrase supersub.
Barca’s star-studded cast looked like rabbits caught in the headlights. Memories of their exit at the hands of Roma last season when they chucked away a three-goal first-leg lead were looming large.
The ineffective Coutinho was hauled off yet once again before Alisson kept out Messi’s effort at his near post.
With 11 minutes to go Liverpool booked their ticket to Madrid. Barca switched off and the alert Alexander-Arnold made them pay.
Initially, the youngster stepped away to let Xherdan Shaqiri take the corner but then darted back and whipped it in low for Origi to convert.
The Belgian frontman, whose named boomed around the ground, has taken the fast-track to legendary status.
Anfield has witnessed many things over the years but nothing quite like this.
Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson (Wijnaldum 45), Fabinho, Milner, Henderson, Shaqiri (Sturridge 90), Mane, Origi (Gomez 85).
Not used: Mignolet, Lovren, Brewster, Woodburn.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Sergi Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba, Vidal (Arthur 75), Busquets, Rakitic (Malcom 80), Messi, Suarez, Coutinho (Semedo 60).
Not used: Cillessen, Umtiti, Vermaelen, Alena.
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir
Goals: Origi 7, Wijnaldum 54, Wijnaldum 56, Origi 79.
Bookings: Fabinho, Matip, Busquets, Rakitic, Semedo,
Man of the match: Jordan Henderson. A true captain’s performance.