Whatever Happens In Madrid, Barcelona Will Be The Biggest Match Of The Season

Here we are then, at the beginning of a week that will lead to either glory or despair. It feels like forever since the final whistle went in the match against Wolves and we all felt a little bit deflated but picked ourselves up again in order to send the players off to Madrid with our chants and songs ringing in their ears. The time has felt like it’s dragged almost as much as between the end of one season and the start of the next. I always think international breaks are tedious but my goodness they’re nothing compared to this. Of course, part of the problem is the fear of what comes next. When Liverpool went off on mid-season breaks during the winter the team looked rusty on its return. Back then it was all about Klopp preparing them for the end of the campaign and the results suggest that his preparations worked wonderfully. But what happens if we’re just as sluggish now? Could the final really come down to whether us or Tottenham are looking sharper when the match gets underway? Could it be as simple as which team is better prepared?

That’s what I fear the most, because if it’s just about who is the better team then we should win comfortably and the league table alone tells us that. Yet, at the weekend we all celebrated the Miracle of Istanbul, so Liverpool supporters are more than well-versed in how cup finals can see incredibly unlikely things happen. I believe these players are primed and ready to go, with the manager using this break to get them at the peak of their conditioning rather than over-tired as they were during the winter. Yet what if Virgil van Dijk tweaks a hamstring in the warm-up? What if Mo Salah gets sent off in the first-half, such is his desperation to make up for last year’s Champions League final? There are a myriad of potential nightmare scenarios that could confront us on Saturday evening and I’m not sure I’m emotionally prepared for losing to Spurs. That being said, I’ve also spent the week thinking about it and I’m not sure that even if we win it anything will actually eclipse the performance and result against Barcelona.

It’s Better Than All The Other Comebacks

Of course winning the European Cup for the sixth time will be amazing if it happens. It goes without saying that lifting a trophy is the ultimate ambition and if we end up as Champions League winners at the expense of Spurs then it’s an accomplishment to sing about for years to come. I’m not saying that victory in the semi-final will make up for it if we lose to Tottenham on Saturday. Instead, what I’m talking about is the actual performance itself and how the manner of our victory over Barcelona is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t alive for St. Etienne, but that is one of the matches most often talked about in terms of Liverpool’s European comebacks. In that game, though, we were only 1-0 down from the first-leg and we erased that lead after just 42 seconds. In essence, the question after one minute of play was ‘can Liverpool win 2-1 at home?’ In terms of the sheer task at hand, the comeback against Dortmund was far more impressive, being 2-0 down as the half-time whistle was blown and knowing the tie was barely showing a pulse.

Obviously Istanbul deserves a mention and it’s unquestionably the comeback that sits the closest to this year’s semi-final in terms of the size of the task we needed to complete. St. Etienne were one of the best teams in the world at the time we played them, but just go away and look at that AC Milan team. Not only full of world-class players but defensively minded and with a 3-0 advantage at the halfway stage. The same description could be said of the Barcelona match, with the difference being that the tie was at half-time when we found ourselves 3-0 down rather than a single match. Even so, 3-0 down against a team containing Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in a front three, to come back and win that in normal time is truly remarkable. Others will argue, but for me it’s the most impressive comeback we’ve ever done.

It Was A Match Filled With Bravery

A big part of the reason we were able to come back and win is the absolute cojones shown by Jürgen Klopp and his team. We knew that a single goal for Barcelona would pretty much kill the tie, and yet we took the game to them in wave after wave of attacking football. Lionel Messi is the best player on the planet right now and he showed in the first-leg how he can be kept quite for most of a game and yet still be absolutely ruthless when he’s presented with an opportunity. Still, we didn’t sacrifice our attacking flair to offer defensive solidity just because of his presence on the pitch. Instead, we moved forward sensibly and relentlessly, turning the screw time and again and the players had the bravery to trust their defenders and the goalkeeper.

Never was this sense of bravery more evident in the corner kick taken by Trent Alexander-Arnold to make the match 4-0 on the night and put is in pole position to progression. Just think about it for a moment. There were just 11 minutes left on the clock when we won the corner and a goal for Barcelona at that point would have meant that the three goals we’d scored to make the tie even would have been for nought. Whilst he’d been told that their defenders sometimes switch off at set-pieces, all it would have taken was for one of their defenders to turn around, intercept the ball and they’d have been on the break when our players weren’t set. The bravery that he showed to take the kick like that, knowing the pelters he’d be on the end of if it hadn’t worked, was absolutely awe-inspiring. Whether we win the European Cup this year or not, that moment should go down in history as being one of the bravest ever seen at Anfield, with the match itself earning its place at the top of a very long list of incredible nights at the stadium.

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