Liverpool ‘giants’ stun Barca to make Champions League final
LIVERPOOL: Liverpool’s incredible Champions League triumph against Barcelona gives Jurgen Klopp’s men the chance to end a season to savour as kings of Europe for a sixth time.
Even fortress Anfield has arguably never seen a night like it. The Spanish champions were thrashed 4-0 on Tuesday despite holding a 3-0 lead after the first leg of the semi-final, and the absence of two of Liverpool’s biggest weapons in Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino through injury.
Salah, ruled out by concussion suffered in a bruising 3-2 win at Newcastle on Saturday that kept Liverpool in the Premier League title race, set the tone for an unforgettable night by arriving at Anfield wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Never Give Up”.
That message sums up a sensational season for the Reds, who are on course to post the third-highest points tally in Premier League history but look like losing out to relentless defending champions Manchester City.
“I said to the boys before the game: ‘I don’t think it is possible but because of you I think it is possible’ because they are really mentality giants,” said Klopp. Redemption for Liverpool and Salah now awaits in Madrid on June 1 against Ajax or Tottenham a year on from losing the final in Kiev to Real Madrid after an early shoulder injury forced the Egyptian off.
“When we were in Kiev it was not brilliant and then the plan was to go to Madrid and get it in there finally, and now we go there in three weeks’ time,” added Klopp. “Last year we felt we have to go back, we cannot let it stand like this. Now we get another chance and we will go for it. I am not sure it will happen again, it is so special.”
Heroic European comebacks form part of Liverpool’s DNA. The last time they lifted the Champions League in 2005, AC Milan thought the trophy was won with a 3-0 half-time lead.
Now Lionel Messi can be added to the list of those to have felt the power of Anfield. Messi’s double towards the end of the first leg appeared to have turned the tie decisively in Barca’s favour. However, he was well marshalled in the return leg, while Liverpool had their revenge on Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, who both left Merseyside for sunnier climes in Catalonia.
Instead, it was the unlikely duo of Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum, who had scored just one Champions League goal between them in their careers before Tuesday, who both scored twice.
“It presents an opportunity for some of the other lads to come in, make a name for themselves and make themselves heroes,” said Trent Alexander-Arnold on the eve of the game, when it was confirmed Salah and Firmino would be absent.
“If we do overturn the deficit tomorrow then whoever scores, their name will always be remembered because I am sure it will be one of those really special nights.” Origi and Wijnaldum wrote their names in Anfield folklore while Alexander-Arnold himself, Liverpool born and bred, ensured at just 20 he too will always be remembered.
His quick-thinking caught a team of experienced Champions League winners completely cold 11 minutes from time with a corner that picked out Origi unmarked to fire into the top corner.
“A genius moment,” said a proud Klopp. “I saw the ball flying in the net and I had no clue who took the corner or who scored-it was too quick for me. Now I saw it back, (it is) incredibly smart how two players connected in the moment.”
Players and fans connected for the full 95 minutes, much as they have all season. “This club is a big heart and tonight the heart was pounding like crazy, you could hear it and feel it all over the world,” added Klopp.
Now 10 months of hard work requires just one final big effort to be rewarded with a sixth European Cup. – AFP