Liverpool produced a feat of escapology up there with anything they have produced in their European history – after overcoming Villarreal, the Reds now have the impetus to continue their quadruple quest
Put yourself in the Liverpool dressing room at half-time and think of what was at stake: a trip to Paris was slithering through their fingers and so, too, was history.
Such enormous opportunities carry a huge emotional burden. Had Liverpool capsized in Villarreal, the ramifications would have been felt in the Premier League and, potentially, the FA Cup final. You don’t tend to recover quickly when you have been embarrassed with the world watching.
So there you have it: these were the highest of high stakes, all or nothing depending on which way the dice fell after the break. Can you imagine how Anfield would have been this Saturday night against Tottenham had Unai Emery pulled off one of the all-time great comebacks?
Liverpool’s pursuit of the quadruple continues after reaching the Champions League final
Now Klopp’s team will walk into an expectant furnace and have the impetus to continue their pursuit of Manchester City in the Premier League – that they are able to do that is down to a feat of escapology up there with anything they have produced in their rich European back story.
To watch the opening 45 minutes was like going back in time to another era. Liverpool hadn’t played this badly in a semi-final since surrendering against Aston Villa in the FA Cup seven years ago; they were stripped of their poise and stopped doing all the things that had given them success.
For context, in the opening half, their passing accuracy was 66 per cent the lowest in any game they had played since the 2019 Champions League final. It was actually a surprise the figure was so high, as everything seemed so clunky and ill-advised; so many decisions were ill-advised.
‘I asked Pete (Kraweitz, chief video analyst) to find me one clip to show the boys what could be done – he came back to me and said there were none,’ said Klopp. ‘We had 11 problems in the first half.’
It’s not as if they were unaware of what could happen. Mention 2019 and you should immediately think of a Champions League semi-final when the second leg featured a team in yellow and the outcome was deemed a foregone conclusion. Never assume anything in football – ever.
Klopp had to take a deep breath when he was asked on Monday if the job had been done and with good reason. Villarreal were never going to do anything other than approach this skirmish with the intention of leaving nothing behind.
But then came the plea for calm and the introduction of Luis Diaz. Will this go down in folklore as David Fairclough’s introduction against St Etienne in 1977 did? Possibly. Historians will know that all seemed lost in that clash against the French champions, as Liverpool were pursuing the Treble.
Buoyed by that come back (Liverpool won 3-1 on the night, having trailed 1-0 at half-time and 1-0 in the first leg), they won the League, got beaten in the FA Cup final by Manchester United but went onto beat Borussia Moenchengladbach in Rome.
None of it would have been possible without Fairclough’s intervention and time may yet show that the jet-heeled winger from Colombia didn’t just haul Liverpool off the floor in Spain, he saved their opportunity to become immortals.
There is still much work to be done and they won’t get away with another 45 minutes like this again – but they are still fighting. In a season which will see them play every possible game in the football calendar, it is a remarkable achievement.