It was supposed to be an impossible job. 3-0 down in a Champions League semi-final against Barcelona – captained by one of the game’s greats in Lionel Messi – things looked hopeless for Liverpool going into the second leg.
What made the deficit all the more dispiriting was that Liverpool actually had Barca on the back foot for large parts of the first leg.
Jurgen Klopp’s side didn’t take their chances but their opponents did. A strike from former Red Luis Suarez and a Messi brace, including an outstanding 35-yard free-kick, put one foot in the final for the LaLiga giants.
Liverpool were undone by magical Messi at the Camp Nou
Liverpool’s great season was coming to a sorry end ahead of the Anfield match – Vincent Kompany smashing in an incredible winner for Manchester City to all-but end any hope of a first Premier League crown for another year the night before.
Meanwhile, Liverpool had a depleted front line for the second leg, with star forwards Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino out injured.
But in a ground that’s seen amazing comebacks against Inter Milan (1965), Saint-Etienne (1977), Olympiakos (2004), Borussia Dortmund (2016), the Liverpool players produced a stunning performance one year ago today that eclipsed all the great European comebacks.
This match will be talked about for decades
“The task ahead, normally, is impossible, but because it’s you there’s a chance something special can be done.”
Captain Jordan Henderson revealed this is what Klopp told the players before the match. The fans had the same attitude, still greeting their heroes and the Barcelona players to the typical Anfield welcome of setting off red flares as the coaches pulled into the stadium
‘Allez, Allez, Allez’ rung around the ground as the two teams walked onto the pitch but even then the thought of Liverpool winning the tie was a pipe dream. But when referee Cuneyt Cakir blew the whistle to start the match, everything changed.
Messi was given his own personal Anfield welcome, a crunching but fair challenge by Fabinho immediately followed by a not so fair shove in the back of the head by Andy Robertson showed the Barca players they would be hunted down until the full-time whistle.
And before the Barcelona players had any time to get settled down, Liverpool took the lead.
An error at the back allowed Henderson through on goal, his effort was well-saved but Divock Origi was on hand to tuck away the rebound.
Origi got the goal but Henderson led the celebrations
Liverpool continued to pepper the Barcelona goal but the visitors had their own chances. Messi went close twice, another former Red in Philippe Coutinho wasted a good opportunity and just before the break Alisson made an excellent save to deny Jordi Alba.
Half-time. Liverpool had the lead but still needed two more goals to level the tie. The Barcelona players were clearly rattled though.
Footage from the Barcelona documentary on Rakuten TV showed a clearly distressed Alba fighting back the tears in the dressing room.
Just what is it about Anfield that makes great players buckle?
Danny Murphy, who played in a number of European nights for Liverpool at Anfield, exclusively told
“There are very few stadiums like Anfield where the fans are so close to the pitch and it’s steeped in such history. The noise is phenomenal when they get going. Many teams psychologically go there knowing it’s going to be tough which is hard to get over in your mind.
“The relevance of the opposition becomes secondary to the passion and intensity of Anfield.”
However, Murphy also suggested that Salah and Firmino’s absence also led to complacency creeping into the Barcelona players.
Murphy added: “Salah and Firmino missing was massive in terms of the mentality of both sides… you could see that complacency in Barcelona’s performance. They were very very arrogant in the way they set-up. It was a lacklustre performance and it was a bad mentality from an experienced team.
“And credit to Liverpool and the manager. When you’ve got players like [Xherdan] Shaqiri and Origi who haven’t played loads, it shows how he keeps players motivated even when they’re not playing every week. That’s one part of management that’s difficult at top level.”
Second-half and a setback for Liverpool. Robertson was forced off after a clash with Suarez in the first-half. On came Georginio Wijnaldum, who was perhaps unlucky not to start the game. The Dutchman made up for the lost time though.
On 54 minutes, Wijnaldum made it 2-0 with a composed finish from a pacey cross on the right by Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Less than two minutes later, Liverpool were level in the tie as an unmarked Wijnaldum nodded home a cross from the left to send the Anfield crowd, who thought they’d seen it all before, berserk.
Wijanldum brought Liverpool level in the blink of an eye
Murphy said: “It makes it better that Wijnaldum came on as a sub because it shows what it says about him.
“He’s used to playing a lot of games and when he came on he wasn’t a player who look annoyed or who had been sulking. He was ready. He came on ready and contributed.”
Barcelona were rattled at half-time. Eleven minutes later they were shell-shocked. Nevertheless, they still carried a threat and offered one or two threatening moments as Alisson made saves to deny Suarez and Messi.
Liverpool had all the momentum and they won a corner on 79 minutes.
Shaqiri was walking over to take the corner but Origi, all alone in the box, met eyes with Alexander-Arnold for a split second. The young right-back knew what to do instantly.
A moment of quick-thinking and a neat finish put Liverpool 4-0 up and incredibly ahead in the tie.
“I was looking at the referee and the linesman and it’s just one of them where you don’t really believe what’s just happened,” said Alexander Arnold.
“You feel like it’s too easy, a goal like that shouldn’t happen in a Champions League semi-final.”
A mention must also go to ballboy Oakley Cannonier too, without his urgency the short corner and goal wouldn’t have happened
But happen it did and minutes later Liverpool had completed mission impossible. The greatest semi-final comeback in the history of the competition.
All the players, the staff ran onto the pitch – the injured Salah came on sporting a fitting ‘Never Give Up’ t-shirt to celebrate with his teammates.
You’ll Never Walk Alone, the anthem synonymous with the club, played across the Anfield PA system, with the players singing along with the Kop to produce an iconic image in the club’s history.
Any Liverpool fan who says they didn’t cry at this moment is lying!
Tottenham made it to the final with a fantastic comeback win of their own against Ajax but Liverpool ran out 2-0 winners in Madrid.
The final was a close contest but Murphy said he was in no doubt about who the winner would be after Liverpool beat Barcelona though.
He said: “This may be the wrong attitude but there’s no way in the world Ajax or Spurs were beating Liverpool in the final.
“I know there was a big gap between the end of the season and the final and Liverpool didn’t play very well in the final but there’s no way after that semi they weren’t winning it, no way.”