Revisiting Liverpool’s miracle against Barcelona one year on

A year ago, Anfield witnessed its greatest night as Liverpool flipped the finger to a 3-0 deficit against Barcelona to reach a consecutive Champions League final. Overturning such a scoreline during that stage of the competition against esteemed opposition was enough to constitute a football fairytale, but it was only half the story. Liverpool had entered the last-four tie with Ernesto Valverde’s charges enveloped in pressure due to a relentless, no-margin-for-error title race with Manchester City. There was also a deep desperation to reach the European showpiece at the Wanda Metropolitano given their 2018 heartbreak against Real Madrid in Kiev. The objective to crown a remarkable campaign with silverware was mentally exacting and began to physically take its toll with the finish line in sight. 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.” If kicking off without the Brazilian – Liverpool’s “important player, connector, finisher, fighter and first defender” – was not arduous enough, the club lost Naby Keita on 24 minutes due to an adductor issue. Two goals from the Argentine in the final quarter of the match coupled with Luis Suarez’s first-half strike erased the gloss from what Klopp considered to be Liverpool’s “best away performance in the Champions League” under his tenure. “It was brave performance that was very passionate, very lively and in a lot of moments creative and direct.” Slideshow: The 50 best games of the last 10 years (FourFourTwo) Those were not simply soothing words after defeat by a drastic, undeserved margin. Two things dominated Klopp’s thoughts post-match: the first was the deflating and unexpected conclusion that Firmino would not be fit for the reverse fixture after a cameo, but more importantly, Liverpool’s display gave him confidence that they could hurt Barca at Anfield in spite of the odds. Mohamed Salah suffered concussion in the 3-2 victory at Newcastle in a match which did not do much to promote the notion of keeping a clean sheet against Messi and co. Liverpool would be without two of their core weapons and their prime midfielder in transition as they attempted to do the unthinkable, all while the rearguard shipped five in two fixtures. In the coaching strategy session a day before the hosting of Barca, the manager felt the lift the Belgium international extracted from that decisive contribution would be key for a fast start in the second-leg. Liverpool planned to suffocate Marc-Andre ter Stegen in possession and the striker was a more natural option in closing him down than Wijnaldum, so it was imperative that he lined up at Anfield with confidence. ‘Borussia Dortmund away’ in the Europa League was the response and the instruction the forward received was to match or supersede that outing. James Milner demanded that the highlights be switched off in the canteen, Virgil van Dijk talked about relishing his tussle with Suarez following the Uruguayan’s theatrics in the first-leg and Jordan Henderson was reminding the squad of all the occasions they had already exceededexpectations. The overriding mood at the training ground was later showcased via Salah’s choice of matchday attire – a black shirt with ‘Never Give Up’ dominating the front of it in bold, white lettering. Joel Matip, Liverpool’s man of the match at Camp Nou, remembered disembarking and thinking that the players were being provided with the perfect backdrop to conjure a comeback. “We know this club is the mix of atmosphere, emotion, desire and football quality,” Klopp analysed in the aftermath of the 4-0 victory. “If I have to describe this club then it’s a big heart and it was obviously pounding like crazy.” Along with a deafening crowd, the manager’s pre-match team talk helped shaped Liverpool’s daring strategy. He was a little bit affected by it.” Barca arrived at Anfield convinced they would score, so much so that the club’s Twitter account declared “we’re going to get at least one.” They were prepared to soak up early pressure from Liverpool content in the knowledge that they would carve opportunities on the counter. The problem with that approach was it discounted a fundamental factor: allowing the hosts to take initiative and promote the emotional pull of Anfield is not very smart. Slideshow: The 25 best Champions League games of all time (FourFourTwo) Suarez was struggling to get the measure of Van Dijk, while the hosts disrupted the ability of Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets to shape play when in possession. Alisson, who would repel every Barca opening, started to notice a familiar look about La Liga’s champions after the first of those. “I think in that moment, they were remembering that Roma game because when I looked at Messi and Suarez, they had their heads down with their hands on their hair like they were feeling it’s coming again.” At 3-3, Liverpool had erased Barca’s advantage and had them on the ropes.