Liverpool 3 – Villarreal 0: Match Report & Analysis

From doubters to believers. That’s what Jürgen Klopp asked us to become when he took over as Liverpool manager just six months ago. Yet despite everything, I didn’t quite do as I was told. I’ll level with you, I wasn’t confident going in to last night’s match.

I don’t really know why, but I felt like it might be one ask too many of a squad that, despite its success in Europe, has limitations. I thought of Andros Townsend running at Kolo Toure and leaving him behind in the match against Newcastle. I thought of all of the games when Liverpool have struggled to break down an opposition that are happy to sit deep. I thought of way in which we controlled the game in Spain without threatening to score. I thought we’d get an admirable, but fruitless, 2-1 win.

Oh me of little faith.

We Are Liverpool – Tra La La La La

Rivalry will always exist in football. It should, it’s healthy. Where would we be if we couldn’t mock Evertonians, supporters of a club who have reached less finals in 21 years than Liverpool have in the last four months? What would we do if we didn’t have constant running battles with Manchester United fans?

Last night, though, last night explained why they hate us so much. Not just Bluenoses and Mancs but fans from across the country. They have a deep-seated hatred of Liverpool that comes from I knew not where. Remember fans of Stoke, Watford and Carlisle singing about Gerrard slipping over, for example. They don’t like us because they’re jealous. Horribly, terribly, inexplicably jealous. And they bloody well should be.

Fans of rival clubs laugh at the fact that Liverpool haven’t won the Premier League since its invention in 1992. They make jokes about Peter Schmeichel’s sperm beating us to a title. Yet they forget that we’ve still won more title than most of them put together. They ignore the fact that since we last won the league we’ve won three FA Cups, four League Cups, two European Super Cups, the UEFA Cup and the Champions League, making the final of each of those competitions on numerous occasions too. We are footballing royalty even without a Premier League trophy to our name.

The Kop in full flow

The Kop in full flow

No other set of fans in the country do what Liverpool fans do on nights like last night. The welcome the players of both teams got to Anfield was absolutely incredible, with over 5000 people lining the tight streets of L4 to sing songs, wave flags and let off flares. There’s no question that it made our players feel ten foot tall and theirs shrink away to nothing. Their manager, so bitter he’s probably an Evertonian, claimed they wouldn’t be over-awed by the atmosphere but he was dead wrong. They were rattled from the get go.

Anfield comes alive on European nights, with the floodlights shining down on the men in red and the green grass so well kept it looks like a carpet. The supporters know how to put on a show and Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and now Villarreal have all come a cropper when up against the best football fans in the country, if not the world. The never give up, never give in attitude has been exemplified by the families of the 96 Liverpool supporters who died in the Hillsborough disaster and it was fitting that Anfield showed them respect for their fight before kick-off with an amazing mosaic.

Chelsea may have more Premier League titles than us at this moment in time, but no amount of money can buy what the Liverpool fans produced last night and in the last three matches of the UEFA Cup. Manchester City might have more money and better players, but their fans didn’t show the sort of passion when they won league that we showed for a semi-final of Europe’s second string competition. Everyone hates us because they want to be us, but they can’t. We are Liverpool, tra la la la la.

Jürgen Klopp

That sort of passion has been in Liverpool’s DNA for generations. People talk of the great Anfield atmospheres such as Inter Milan in 1965, St. Etienne in 1977 and Chelsea in 2004. The Anfield faithful know what it means to get behind the team, for so long called ‘the most intelligent fans in football’. They have an understanding of when to offer support, when to follow momentum and when to roar themselves hoarse to lift a team that might be on a downer.

It’s a support group that’s been asleep for a few years recently, though. Energy has been wasted fighting the blood-sucking leeches that were Tom Hicks and George Gillet, putting all of our might into stopping them from ruining our famous old club. After that any remaining energy was sapped by the negative, boring, life-draining manager that was Roy Hodgson.

Things started to get shaken up a bit when King Kenny returned to the throne, taking us to two cup finals in one season and winning one of them. The Liver bird was prodded and poked by the sublime skill of Luis Suarez under the management of Brendan Rodgers, stirring from its slumber for a time in 2013-2014. The Northern Irishman took us close, but he wasn’t quite inspirational enough to get us over the line and the old bird went back to sleep for another couple of years.

Enter Jürgen Klopp. Despite the protestations from supporters of clubs like United, Chelsea and Arsenal, the German is a manager that was coveted by all of them and is respected all over the world for his achievements first at Mainz and then at Dortmund. Even old whiskeynose from along the way has admitted his admiration of the man. Wanted by everyone, got by us. The gaffer who gets it, the man who understands what it means and shows the same sort of passion from the sidelines that we show from the stands.

When he uttered that now famous line about wanting us all to change from doubters to believers, we laughed and shared the Vine, but looked wearily on with the expression of a group of people who know how special our club is and wants any new manager to earn our respect rather than demand it. When he got the players to salute the Kop after a home draw against West Brom, some members of the Kop thought it was a bit cringeworthy and didn’t get why he did it. Rival fans laughed at him, laughed at us, laughed at the whole thing. They’re not laughing now.

The main is a tour de force. A genuine wrecking ball of a manager who promised heavy metal football and has already started to deliver, despite not making any signings of his own and only arriving at the club partway through the season. Against Manchester United, Dortmund and Villarreal he has woken the Liver bird from its recent slumber and got it to rise up like a phoenix from the flames, spreading its wings over Europe and enveloping richer and better clubs in its shadow. Liverpool may have nights like last night deep in the club’s DNA, but Klopp is the man who has shaken it up and given it new life. The future looks very bright indeed.

Emre Can

Last night was the quintessential example of a team being more than the sum of its parts, with virtually every player on the pitch wearing red making a case for the title of Man Of The Match. Sturridge was quiet for periods but was involved in all three goals and could have scored three more. Milner seemed to be everywhere at once. Kolo Toure rolled back the years and defended stoutly whilst keeping heads calm. Dejan Lovren completed his renaissance with a defence leading performance that shows what happens when new signings are allowed time to settle. Roberto Firmino was on fire, his turn that left Roberto Soldado wondering what day it was the sort of thing you can watch on repeat and never tire of.

Yet special mention has to be given to Emre Can. The German was absolutely incredible. Considering he’s not supposed to be back from his injury for another three weeks and has spent a bit of time out of the side, he bossed the middle of the park and was involved in most of the good stuff that Liverpool did last night.

Emre Can In The Centre Circle v Rubin Kazan

Emre Can In The Centre Circle v Rubin Kazan

It would be completely false of me to claim that I’ve always been 100% behind the midfielder this season. There have been times when he’s demonstrated a lack of maturity or has looked somewhat off the boil during certain matches. I’ve never doubted his innate talent, but I’ve sometimes questioned whether he might have benefited from a spell on the sidelines, out of the spotlight.

Once again, I was wrong. At just 22, younger than ‘young man’ Kevin Stewart’, Can has all the attributes to go on to become one of the best midfielders in the world. He still has faults that need to be ironed out, but under Klopp’s stewardship there’s no question that these will all be sorted in due time. Last night he gave us a glimpse at the sort of player he could yet become and we should all be very, very excited.

And so on to Basel and the challenge of Sevilla. The Spanish side have won the Europa League four times in the last ten years, with this being their third final in a row. They will be a difficult team to beat and it would be folly to suggest that just because they’re below Villarreal in La Liga we will definitely beat them.

But they don’t have our fans. And they don’t have our manager. And they don’t have our European pedigree. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We are Liverpool, tra la la la la.

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