On the face of it, an exhilarating, near-faultless nine months of football was set to be fruitless for Liverpool this time last year.
Humbled by a lesson in finishing by Lionel Messi and Co a week earlier and with their Premier League title exploits all but over after a Vincent Kompany piledriver the night before, the best Liverpool side in a generation needed a performance of a lifetime if they were to salvage anything from 2018-19.
Three down, against a sumptuous, fully-strength Barcelona side. With Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, injured and with the whole squad knackered after a draining season, this third do-or-die tussle in six days was to be a bridge too far.
But by 10:00pm on Tuesday May 7 2019, after 95 minutes of action which was frankly, beyond belief, Liverpool had pulled off arguably the greatest comeback in the history of the club, and the Champions League. 4-0 – how much are those flights to Madrid now?
Georginio Wijnaldum celebrates scoring Liverpool’s third goal to bring them level with Barcelona on aggregate
The second-half substitute rose highest to head in his second goal just minutes after scoring his first for the hosts
Lionel Messi pictured leaving the pitch at Anfield on a bruising night for Barcelona
On the Monday, Klopp had insisted, albeit subtly, that the contest was not yet over. As reported in the aftermath, he said to his players: ‘The world outside is saying it is not possible. But because it’s you? Because it’s you, we have a chance.’
There’s a chance, and then there’s realism. A second consecutive Champions League final, after heartbreak against serial winners Real Madrid in 2018, was wholeheartedly unrealistic. But then again, Istanbul 2005, and all that jazz.
In all corners though, Anfield gathered a year ago with a glimmering of hope rather than any sort of unfathomable expectation.
While Barcelona’s captain, talisman and star man Messi was fully fired after a weekend break, Salah, who had torn ex-club Roma apart in the semi-finals a year earlier, was absent due to a concussion sustained against Newcastle on the Saturday. Xherdan Shaqiri, who had not played since January, replaced him out wide.
With Firmino also missing, the number nine baton was handed over to once-forgotten man Divock Origi, who’d reinvigorated his career simply by being in the right place at the right time against Everton in December.
As Liverpool’s coach arrived at Anfield on Tuesday, Klopp’s men were raring to go
In the seventh minute against Barca, after a blistering start which made all guns blazing sounds like an understatement, the Belgian’s position on the pitch was once again, perfect.
Jordi Alba’s wayward header gifted Sadio Mane the ball, who in turn set up Henderson driving into the box. The Liverpool skipper’s shot was saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, straight into the path of Origi to tap-in. ‘There’s one back…’ bellowed Darren Fletcher, on commentary for BT Sport.
Yet as Liverpool pressed and hurried their opponents – full-backs up high, Henderson and James Milner zooming about like lunatics and Fabinho flying into challenges – a storm was eventually weathered by the La Liga champions. But in stark contrast to the first-leg, their lacklustre finishing would be their ultimate undoing.
Divock Origi, who was filling in for the injured Mohamed Salah, tapped in a saved Jordan Henderson shot
The Liverpool skipper screams in delight after Origi scored the opening goal in the first half
Fabinho’s tenacious display gave Liverpool’s other midfielders a platform to support the attack
Messi, ex-red Philippe Coutinho and Jordi Alba all squandered more-than-decent chances in the first-half. To clarify, a Barca goal would leave Liverpool needing to score five in total. But Barca, on top in the second-half of the first period, fluffed their lines.
After the interval, a change Jurgen Klopp did not want to make. A squabble carried over from the Camp Nou, former King of the Kop Luis Suarez kicked out on Andy Robertson on the stroke of half-time. Unable to continue, Gini Wijandlum – who was furious not to be starting – replaced him, with the ever-reliable Milner shuffling over to left back.
Nine minutes after coming on, blood-boiling, Wijnaldum’s anticipation was timed to perfection. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross took a slight nick off Alba, into the path of the substitute, who stroked the ball under ter-Stegen’s grasp. ‘It really is game on in the Champions League now…’ Fletcher said, sensing the impossible.
Liverpool’s No 5 celebrates by picking up the ball and running back to the halfway line to get play restarted
Two up, but one short, Wijnaldum sprinted over to tug the ball from ter-Stegen’s grasp, an incident which bizarrely resulted in a VAR check for a red card before play kicked off again.
But once the whistle blew again, Liverpool were all-square within XX minutes. Shaqiri found The Flying Dutchman in the box, whose header was exquisite, rustling the net beyond a stationary German keeper. The pictures told the story, as Wijnaldum sprinted towards The Kop. ‘Oh it’s three… Liverpool are on their way back!’ a disbelieving Fletcher screamed.
Wijnaldum runs to celebrate in front of the Kop after bringing the aggregate score back to 3-3
And then, something which Liverpool had not experienced all night. Caution. They were level, and extra-time beckoned.
Barca still had chances in the second period. Suarez gave Alisson an opportunity to save which should not have materialised via a one-on-one, while Messi troubled the Brazilian at his near-post from a cleverly worked corner.
But the moment everyone has since titled ‘Corner taken quickly’ was upon us. Alexander-Arnold, the 20-year-old local lad who wore his heart on his sleeve, won a corner on the near-side.
Walking away to let Shaqiri take it, he spotted an opportunity no one in the stadium saw. A clear path to Origi, himself blissfully unaware of the opportunity himself. The right back reversed, swung his glorious right foot, to the Belgian.
With no time to think, Origi swept the ball into the top corner. Barca stood still, shellshocked. Suarez, as he does, appealed to the officials. But there was nothing to appeal. Barca has been caught napping, by a moment of genius.
Divock Origi (right) celebrates with Xherdan Shaqiri (left) after scoring Liverpool’s fourth to complete the comeback
The Belgian striker quickly reacted to a brilliant corner from Trent Alexander-Arnold to complete a spectacular comeback
Ballboy Oakley Cannonier played a key role in Liverpool’s corner that led to the fourth goal
Alexander-Arnold was praised for his ingenuity but a word for 14-year-old Oakley Cannonier, the ballboy, who hurried the ball to Alexander-Arnold.
To full-time, with Milner guarding the ball by the corner, and referee Cuneyt Cakir blowing the final whistle, with four minutes and 55 seconds of injury time played – ironically, the same time stamp of Lucas Moura’s hat-trick goal a night later.
Liverpool were in the final again, and this time they would not be denied against Tottenham on June 1. Six-time champions of Europe, now ahead of Barcelona.
Amid the celebrations, there was a desire to make sure this time Liverpool win the tournament
Liverpool’s players soaked up the adulation of the fans in front of The Kop after full-time
The scoreboard and the lonely figure of Barcelona captain Lionel Messi told the tale
But in a time when on-field play is nonexistent, turn the calendar back and reminisce. Flick through the Twitter timeline. Delve into the match report. Watch the highlights on YouTube, which was the most-watched video on the video website in 2019 for UK users.
The players, joined by Salah wearing a ‘Never Give Up’ t-shirt, celebrated in disbelief in front of The Kop, shoulder-to-shoulder, in a rendition of the club’s anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone.
From the brink of a year of unfulfillment beforehand, Liverpool conquered Messi and Barcelona in unforgettable circumstances, on Anfield’s greatest night.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson celebrates at full-time after an unforgettable comeback