One year ago, Anfield witnessed one of it’s greatest European nights as Liverpool overturned a 3-0 deficit against Barcelona to reach their second consecutive Champions League final.
The thought of Liverpool overturning such a deficit against arguably the greatest football team in Europe, seemed out of reach but to really appreciate and understand this moment of sporting history, requires a break down analysis of everything around the match.
Liverpool had entered the last-four tie against Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona side fully charged up and thriving the challenge that was ahead of them, after beating Newcastle United away from home in a 3-2 thriller, which was vital for Liverpool’s no-margin for error title race with Manchester City.
There was a desperation and urgency for Liverpool to reach the Champions League final at the Wanda Metropolitano to erase the heartbreak from their loss to Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League final.
The thought of concluding the season with a piece of silverware motivated and excited them mentally and physically.
Striker Roberto Firmino suffered a torn groin muscle ahead of the first leg at Camp Nou on May 1, with Jurgen Klopp selecting Gini Wijnaldum as a false nine because he needed “an offensive player who is quite good in defending as well that could work between the lines.”
Playing the match without the Brazilian number 9, was disappointing news for the reds as he is Liverpool’s “important player, connector, finisher, fighter and first defender” – in addition to the already disappointing news the club lost Naby Keita 24 minutes into the match due to an adductor issue.
However, even without Firmino and Keita, the reds were dominant on Barca’s turf without putting the ball in the back of the net and in trying to stop Lionel Messi from doing the same.
Two goals from Lionel Messi in the final quarter of the match was combined with Luis Suarez’s first-half goal.
Klopp still thought this was Liverpool’s “best away performance in the Champions League” under his tenure. He backed up his point by saying, “against a side like this, playing this kind of football I was completely happy”.
There were two things that overwhelmed Klopp’s thoughts post-match: the first was the disappointing news that Firmino would not be fit for the second leg fixture and the second was that Liverpool’s display gave him confidence that they had a decent chance of hurting Barca at Anfield.
When preparations began for the second-leg, there was another big setback to contend with.
Liverpool forward Mohammed Salah suffered a concussion in the 3-2 victory at Newcastle which meant the reds would be without two of their key players.
The winning goal from Divock Origi in the 3 -2 win against Newcastle impressed the Liverpool manager.
In the coaching strategy session a day before the hosting of Barcelona, the Liverpool manager felt the confidence the Belgium international got and his contribution in the away win against Newcastle would be worthy of starting in the second-leg.
On matchday, Klopp asked Origi what his greatest performance in a Liverpool shirt had been. ‘Borussia Dortmund away’ in the Europa League was the response and the instruction Klopp gave the forward was to match or better that display.
In the opening minutes of kick off, Liverpool’s strong desire to own the ball was shown in how confidently they won the ball back. Within 120 seconds, Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson got stuck into Messi with Alexander-Arnold saying: “Robbo got under his skin. He was a little bit affected by it.”
Barcelona arrived at Anfield so convinced they would score, that the club’s Twitter account declared “we’re going to get at least one.”
In just seven minutes Liverpool took the lead with Origi’s opener. Henderson grabbed the ball, running back to the centre spot with it under one arm and encouraging the crowd to cheer with the other.
A few moments later Liverpool lost Robertson to injury.
An “angry” Wijnaldum replaced the left-back, pushing James Milner into the left-back position and Barca seemed more confident because of the changes.
But that confidence Barca felt did not last long as the substitute, Wijnaldum produced two goals in two minutes.
At 3-3, Liverpool had Barcelona on the ropes and if that did not hurt Barcelona, then ‘the smartest thing I ever saw football-wise’ as per klopp, that took in the 78th minute did.
Alexander-Arnold won a corner on 78 minutes, placed the ball and had positioned himself to take the corner before Shaqiri requested responsibility for the set-piece. The right-back obliged and began to walk away from the corner set up before noticing Barca had briefly switched off.
Origi, stationed in the danger area, had his eyes peeled to any goal scoring opportunity and Alexander-Arnold quickly turned back towards the ball.
The right-back delivered a cross for the striker to complete a historic Anfield comeback, while making the almighty Barcelona “look like youngsters” as said by Suarez in his analysis on loosing to his former club Liverpool.
Liverpool went onto beating fellow Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur 2-0, in the final in Madrid and they lifted their sixth European cup trophy.
Sources: Liverpool FC website, The Independent, BBC Sport and Sky Sports.