By Andrew Warshaw
May 8 – Impossible, unthinkable, sensational, miraculous. The superlatives are still pouring out of every footballing corner of the world to describe arguably the greatest comeback in European football history as Liverpool beat mighty Barcelona 4-0 on Tuesday to overturn a three-goal first-leg deficit and advance to their second successive Champions League final.
Even by the club’s own standards of memorable performances down the years, none matched the latest chapter in the Liverpool’s illustrious history with a breathtaking victory that reverberated around the globe. No football fan, whether or not they support Liverpool, will ever forget Tuesday, May 7, 2019.
In Istanbul in 2005, when Liverpool recovered from 3-0 before lifting the trophy against AC Milan, success was ultimately achieved on penalties. This was even more emphatic in the way, against all odds, they put Barca – Lionel Messi and all – to the sword. Even without injured star forwards Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino.
Messi had single-handedly broken Liverpool hearts in the first leg with a sublime individual display that should have rendered the return leg redundant. But Jurgen Klopp’s team had numerous chances in the Nou Camp and, back on home soil, grabbed the initiative from the outset and showed exactly what teamwork, hunger, spirit and gut-busting energy can achieve with a devastating performance that will go down in the annals of footballing folklore.
It was the first time since 1986 – when, ironically, Barcelona knocked out Gothenburg in the old European Cup – that a team have overturned a three-goal first-leg semi-final deficit in Europe’s showpiece club competition. But for Barca, it was a case of déjà vu as history repeated itself having been eliminated in last season’s quarter-finals by Roma in similar circumstances.
Having lost in the final to Real Madrid last season, Liverpool visit the stadium of Real’s cross-city rivals Atletico for this year’s climax on June 1 where they will be odds-on favourites to beat either Ajax or Tottenham.
Winning the trophy for the sixth time but the first in 14 years would cap a remarkable season that has seen Liverpool lose only once domestically in the league and amass 94 points.
Despite that record, they seem destined to finish runner-up to Manchester City with one round of fixtures to go on Sunday but the pain of just missing out on a first domestic league crown for 29 years would certainly be eased by winning the Champions League.
“It was overwhelming. I would say it’s impossible,” said Klopp amid wild celebrations at the final whistle on the pitch and in the stands.
“Winning against Barcelona is one of the most difficult things in the world of football. Winning against Barcelona when you are 3-0 down…we had to score four goals and were not allowed to concede, even more difficult, so we did not really think about it to be honest.”
“I said to the boys before. ‘I think it’s impossible but because it’s you we have a chance.’ I don’t know how the boys did it. It’s unbelievable.”
The future of his shell-shocked opposite number Ernesto Valverde, whose team showed an alarming lack of backbone and were completely over-run, with Messi unable to weave his magic, must now be in serious doubt after another bitter elimination.
“It is a terrible result for our fans and for ourselves,” Valverde said. “We didn’t expect a situation like this. Yet this is what has happened.”
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