Liverpool 4 - 0 Barcelona! Liverpool win 4-3 on aggregate! The Reds make one of the most extraordinary comebacks in sporting history! - Match Review
Last week Liverpool left Spain with a mountain to climb, despite playing well for large periods of the game they missed crucial opportunities and the sensational skill of Lionel Messi gave Barcelona a three-goal advantage and many believed one foot already in the final. But Jurgen Klopp and his side had other ideas and they battled back at Anfield, spurred on by the incredible atmosphere from the home supporters and accomplished what many believed was mission impossible. Two of their star strikers were sidelined and forced to watch on from the stands but doubles from both Gini Wijnaldum and Divock Origi made history and booked Liverpool into the final of the Champions League for the second year in a row on an Anfield European night which will never be forgotten.
With the race for the Premier League title going down to the final game of the season, having suffered the defeat in the first leg and with a few injuries beginning to mount up it was suggested Jurgen Klopp may be better off resting his star players and save them for Sunday's game. But the Liverpool manager rubbished those claims and made it clear he and the players weren't giving up on this tie. Mo Salah was ineligible for selection after suffering a concussion against Newcastle while Roberto Firmino had to miss out with a muscle injury, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain also picked up an injury preparing for the game. Trent Alexander Arnold returned after missing the first leg while Joel Matip replaced Dejan Lovren to partner Van Dijk. Surprisingly Gini Wijnaldum had to make do with a seat on the bench as Fabinho and Jordan Henderson were joined by James Milner in the three-man midfield. Sadio Mane was the only one of the "big three" left in attack and was joined by Origi and Shaqiri coming in to replace Firmino and Salah. Barcelona rested all 11 players for their league game and recalled the same team who were victorious at the Nou Camp in the first leg.
Anfield was rocking by the time the game got going and it seemed to feed energy to the Liverpool players whilst leaving Barcelona's shellshocked. I had expected them to come with a plan of holding the ball for as long as they could in order to prevent Liverpool from building any kind of momentum but they weren't allowed and Liverpool managed to win possession just over 10 seconds into the game. From Barca's kickoff, Liverpool won the ball back and launched an attack with Mane down the left wing. He carried the ball into the box where he picked out Shaqiri who struck a shot but was blocked by Pique, it deflected the ball across goal and almost fell for Jordan Henderson to tap it in at the far post if not for Alba stretching out to put it out of play for a corner. Nothing came of the corner but Liverpool was off to a bright start encouraging the fans to keep roaring them on.
Soon enough Liverpool's strong start resulted in them grabbing the opening goal. Joel Matip picked the ball up and sent a long diagonal ball towards Mane who was now over on the right side of the pitch. The ball wasn't on target though and dropped to Jordi Alba but the Barca left-back made a mistake and flicked the ball on seemingly unaware of Mane's presence. Mane controlled the ball and played it on to Jordan Henderson bursting into the penalty area, he got away from Pique and drilled a low shot that was saved well by Ter Stegen in goal for Barca. The German keeper couldn't hold onto the shot though and only parried it out into the path of Divock Origi who after scoring the dramatic winner against Newcastle last time out wasn't going to make any mistakes and knocked it in over the line from close range to give Liverpool the lead with 7 minutes played.
It was a fantastic start and Liverpool went in search of another just a couple of minutes later, Sadio Mane back over on the left beat Roberto before tumbling inside the Barca penalty area. The referee was having none of it and called for Mane to get back to his feet and I believe it was the correct decision, it wasn't a dive and there was some contact but not enough to justify a penalty. Following that Barca went on the offensive, Vidal launched a brilliant ball over to Coutinho on the left side who handed it over to Alba who in turn pulled it back for Lionel Messi to unleash a shot at goal. Messi had been sensational in the first leg but this time Alisson was equal to him and tipped the shot over the bar with a great save. They had another chance with Messi trying to orchestrate this time after collecting the ball in the centre of the pitch, he carried it forward shrugging off Fabinho with ease then cutting it to Coutinho who made the run alongside him, Coutinho hit the shot well enough looking for the bottom corner but Alisson was once again able to deny them and parried it away.
After that stint of Barcelona pressure the game suddenly became very open with attacks from both teams needing to be derailed last minute and as a result, it was beginning to get a little feisty. As usual Luis Suarez was at the centre of a lot of the trouble going down and demanding yellow cards for Liverpool players following every challenge whilst also sticking his foot out looking to catch them whenever he could. There were concerns when Jordan Henderson went down holding his knee after a clash with Lenglet. Wijnaldum began to prepare to come on and replace him but was soon sent to sit back down after the Liverpool captain signalled he was able to continue. Liverpool had a shot blocked from going in by Pique while at the other end Messi had a few shots off target from range. Towards the end of the half, Andy Robertson went down after an incident while running off the ball. Luis Suarez avoided any punishment but replays show that the former Liverpool hero seemed to kick out twice at Robertson, the Liverpool left-back saw out the rest of the half but during the break, it was deemed he could not continue.
Gini Wijnaldum came on to replace the injured Robertson as the teams came out for the restart, the Dutchman slotted into his usual midfield role while James Milner switched to left-back. It would have been a concern for Liverpool having already had to make do without two of their top attackers they'd now lose out on Robertson's storming runs down the left side. It would prove to be a blessing in disguise though as Wijnaldum came off the bench like a man on a mission and help complete the comeback. The Reds got off to a bright start in the second half with Mane being sent through early on in the half only to smash the ball high over the bar, Van Dijk came close to scoring minutes later when Liverpool players crowded Ter Stegen following a corner. The ball dropped inside the box and the Liverpool defender swung his foot to catch it with a backheel directing it towards goal but the Barca keeper reacted quickly and managed to deny Liverpool.
Barca had the chance to land a killer blow to the home sides fightback with a crucial away goal when Messi put the ball through to Suarez inside the penalty box, the former Liverpool striker had promised not to celebrate if he scored at his former home ground but failed to connect with his usual ferocity and fired a tame shot directly at Alisson. Barca would soon regret the missed chance as minutes later Liverpool grabbed goal number two, Trent Alexander initially lost possession with a poor header infield but was keen to win it back and intercepted a pass by Rakitic to launch an attack down the wing. He carried the ball forward and then played a low cross into the box, it took a deflection on the way but found Wijnaldum just inside the box and he side-footed it under Ter Stegen and into the back of the net. The midfielder scored a crucial goal in the semifinals last season against Roma to fire Liverpool into the final and had come off the bench to do so once again.
The second goal seemed to stun the Barca players who immediately gave the ball away from the kick off allowing Liverpool to go straight back on the offensive. Fabinho slid the ball forward for Origi to chase and he brought it under control over on the right side of the penalty box, the Belgian turned and tried to chip it over to the back post but over hit the cross. It was gathered by Shaqiri who kept it alive by knocking it backwards to Milner who gave it straight back to him in acres of space. The Swiss winger took a touch to bring it under control and then played a cross into the box where Wijnaldum was once again on hand to score, this time with his head. His header was aimed perfectly into the top corner and Ter Stegen could do nothing but watch it pass him on it's way to the back of the net. Liverpool had pulled the tie back to level terms, matching Barca's scoreline from the first leg and if it stayed like this the game would go to extra time and possibly penalties. But they weren't done yet!
Barca had a few moments including one brilliantly worked corner routine that lead to Messi having a strike which needed to be saved by Alisson but Liverpool were firmly in control of the game and searched for a fourth to put them ahead. After some long-range efforts, they eventually won a corner and what followed was a moment of pure genius. Trent Alexander Arnold had put the ball down only for Shaqiri to walk over and suggest he should take it, players from both sides were still making their way into the box and setting up for the corner when Alexander Arnold saw Origi on his own directly in front of goal. The young right-back then stepped back to the corner and smashed in a low cross towards Origi who seemed to catch up with what was happening just in time to smash the ball into the back of the net just before any of the Barca realised the ball had come back into play. It was fantastic quick thinking by Alexander Arnold and Liverpool had done what many thought was impossible, not only had they pulled back the three goals they trailed by from the first leg but now they were in the lead!
There was still 11 minutes plus a further 5 which would be added on at the end and each of those seemed to last an hour as Barca looked to pull a goal back which would see them through undoing all the hard work Liverpool had put in up to that point. Jurgen Klopp added Joe Gomez to help strengthen the defence and the midfielders and Sadio Mane seemed to drop deep to help out as well. The away side saw lots of the ball and attempted to work chances but was never able to find their way through. In fact, it was Liverpool who came closest to scoring in those last few minutes whenever they would win back possession and hit a counter-attack, a couple came close to coming off but finally, the game was up, the referee blew his whistle and Liverpool were into the Champions League final!
What a game! What a performance! And what a team Jurgen Klopp has built! The German manager has never lost a knockout tie since he took over at Anfield and has guided his team to back to back Champions League finals. Awaiting them in the final will be either Tottenham or Ajax, the Dutch club has the lead from the first leg but Spurs can take inspiration from their Premier League rivals that leads can be overturned. Liverpool has one more league game left this Sunday against Wolves where they can possibly clinch the Premier League title should things go their way between City and Brighton.