Liverpool inspired, Barcelona unsettled – How Anfield makes near-impossible results reality

 
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Liverpool have reached their third Champions League final since winning it in 2005

When I tell everyone that European nights at Anfield are unbelievably special I am sure a lot of people look at me and think ‘yeah, right’.

But they really are like nothing else I have experienced in more than 40 years as a player and pundit, and what happened when I watched Liverpool beat Barcelona there on Tuesday night proved it again.

I have seen it so many times now down the years, and with different sets of Reds players, which ultimately tells you that there is something about the place.

I don’t think you can understand exactly what I mean by that unless you have been there and been a part of it, but there is no other ground like Anfield on nights like this and it has a huge effect on Liverpool, and the opposition too.

I don’t believe Liverpool could have pulled off their famous Champions League victory over Lionel Messi and Co without the help of their fans, who I know from experience are like a 12th man when you are out there on the pitch.

As a Liverpool player, I learnt for myself what a difference that support makes – I would describe it as a feeling of ‘whoosh’, and ‘wow’.

You might think you are tired, but then you run and chase the ball and make a tackle and the place goes mad. You are thinking ‘how good is this’ and you want some more of it.

For the opposition, the opposite is true. The crowd unsettles and unnerves them, as much as it lifts and inspires the Liverpool players.

I have seen plenty of times, where world class players are made to look ordinary because the atmosphere is so intense they barely get a chance to breathe, let alone think.

That was exactly what happened on Tuesday. The Liverpool fans were incredible right from the start and just kept going.

By the end of the night, Barca were totally shot to pieces. The longer the game went on, the more ordinary they looked, and that is the effect that Anfield can have on you.

‘Let’s give it everything we’ve got’

I think you can sum up the outlook of the average Liverpool fan from what people were telling me on my way into Anfield on Tuesday night.

The Reds supporters I spoke to were saying we would probably win 2-1, or something like that, and go out having given it a really good go and created a good atmosphere.

Liverpool fans waited outside the stadium hoping for another dramatic comeback

I am sure it will be the same on Sunday. Those fans will be saying ‘we probably won’t win the league even if we beat Wolves – but let’s give everything we’ve got’.

Part of the reason they think like that is the Reds manager Jurgen Klopp. They know his teams will always put in 100% effort, and that automatically earns respect and a reaction from the stands. The fans want to give the same.

And if those supporters and Anfield itself brings some special performances out of Liverpool’s players, then so does Klopp.

He is an incredible coach who has improved every single player in his squad in his time at the club but he also understands the club and is totally in tune with the fans.

He understands the power of the stadium and the Liverpool supporters and, on nights like Tuesday, he uses it to his advantage.

He has got the whole club in the palm of his hand, but in a nice way. Now he just needs to get hold of some silverware to go with it.

‘Liverpool’s greatest comeback? Yes’

I said before the game that if Liverpool found a way into the final it would be the greatest comeback in the club’s history, and it was.

Why? Well, because of who they were up against, who they were missing in the shape of Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, what it would cost them if they conceded an away goal and how they reacted to what happened on the night.

Liverpool are going to Madrid for the Champions League final, the first final since 2013 not to feature a Spanish side

Liverpool did not just cope with all of that, they flourished. Firmino was replaced by Divock Origi, who scored twice, as did Georginio Wijnaldum after he came on for the injured Andy Robertson at half-time.

Being totally honest, beforehand I was not expecting Liverpool to get through the tie. My prediction was similar to what I was hearing from the punters, which was glorious failure.

Obviously that changed as the night progressed – but not until near the end.

When Origi scored early on to put Liverpool 1-0 up, I was thinking ‘that is that bit done’ but then Barca had two or three good chances and I felt certain they were going to score.

Even at 3-0, Liverpool were still at the edge of a precipice the whole time, because just one Barca goal would have left them needing two more goals to go through.

That was the big difference between this game and the 2005 final in Istanbul, where a fourth AC Milan goal would not have completely killed the game off.

In the end, it was Origi’s second goal that did that. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s quick thinking caught Barca out from a corner, but they had been on the brink of collapse for a while.

A better way to end the season – on a high note

Liverpool go into the final game of the season a point behind Man City

It was a brilliant result for Liverpool but also a fantastic performance that was typical of the way they have played all season.

Liverpool have lost only one Premier League game in 2018-19 but that is not because they are a defensive team. Quite the opposite in fact.

Before they beat Barca, it looked like what has been a remarkable campaign might end on a disappointing note when they host Wolves on Sunday, because I do not see Manchester City dropping points at Brighton to let the Reds back into the title race on the final day.

I am just pleased that will now not be the final act of their amazing season, and instead the focus will be on the Champions League final on 1 June, and the chance to end it on a high.

Liverpool head for Madrid at the end of the month, and before that their fans will be able to give their team one hell of a send-off. There should be quite an atmosphere at Anfield, yet again.

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