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24th Apr 2018

Liverpool hurricaning through the Champions League is no accident – just ask Jurgen Klopp or Philippe Coutinho

Melissa Reddy

There will be an individual, out of view, far from the red-tinged Anfield sky and scarf-swirling ecstasy, who will rewind to a conversation and know that none of this is coincidence.

Liverpool, a hurricane of movement and attacking mastery, are 90-odd minutes away from flying to Kyiv for the chance at a sixth European Cup. 

Roma had no obstructions, no clue and no say in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final that they were losing 5-0 on Merseyside, before they stopped playing dead to score twice late on.

In the striking, beach-lined Bellamar district of Castelldefels, which lies southwest of Barcelona, Philippe Coutinho will revisit Jurgen Klopp’s words from December 2016.

In the manager’s office on Melwood’s top tier, with the training pitches behind them and the topic of the Brazilian’s future being faced, the Reds boss detailed the shifting climate in European football.

The dominant forces on the continent – Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona – he argued, had ceded some of their powers with the cloak of invincibility slipping. They were all, of course, still formidable teams but were no longer looking down from a tower that seemed unreachable and Liverpool had designs on rapidly ascending.

They would be back among Europe’s elite, and when they were, it would not be to make up the numbers but to shatter them – to overwhelm opponents and leave them feeling as they were a man short all over the pitch. 

Klopp had shared this vision with the No.10, in talks before and after Christmas that year, telling Coutinho he had the opportunity to be front and centre in the poster of their revival – to be immortalised in the club’s history if he stayed and helped propel them to greatness.

Fast forward and having  – on the back of those dialogues with the German – agreed a new long-term deal sans a release clause in January 2017, he departed for Camp Nou 12 months later despite Liverpool progressing to the Champions League Last 16.

Since then, it has not been about a player who left after five years of service with no silverware, but about those who have remained to push the Reds closer to the trophy threaded into the fibre of the club in what seems to be a never-ending reverie.

It is about Mohamed Salah, a force that manages to mix the explosive and the elegant with a consistency that bankrupts vocabularies of superlatives.

Forty three goals. Top-corner curlers, delicate chips, thunderbastards… Three have come against Manchester City, the same figure against Tottenham, two against Arsenal, that number here against his former club Roma and one against Chelsea.

On the main stage, when Liverpool most need him, he does the business and spreads his arms out to ask his people if they expected any less. Forty three goals. They do not expect any less.

It is about Roberto Firmino, a relentless all-rounder who tackles more than most midfielders and has 27 goals in the campaign – 11 of them in Europe. A player Klopp may as well have concocted in a science lab given his fighting football DNA.

It is about Sadio Mane, who tries and grafts and scores and never hides whether things are going his way or not. Whether he is the right forward, on the left, through the middle, or deeper as a playmaker.

It is about teenager Trent Alexander-Arnold representing his city with aplomb, his deliveries sparking wonderment, and left-back Andy Robertson on the opposite flank giving every inch in every game.

It is about James Milner, who has the most assists in a single Champions League campaign, but who would have wondered at the start of the season just how much he’d actually feature on the continent. Ready, reliable, there and there again.

It is about Virgil van Dijk, who makes £75 million seem a more than reasonable transfer fee. Sometimes cheap even. It is about Loris Karius and Dejan Lovren, who have been on the canvas so many times, but keep getting up.

It is about every single player in the squad.

None of them are perfect – ok, the front three are if we’re being honest – but they are committed to delivering for their manager, for each other, for the supporters, for Liverpool.

It is about this team, who shouldered extra responsibility following Coutinho’s transfer, who have not been able to turn to the sidelined Adam Lallana and Emre Can, who have been without Nathaniel Clyne for the largest part of the season, and who lost Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain through injury on 18 minutes against Roma, but powered on.

The sight of the midfielder clutching his knee, enveloped with pain as he was stretched off from in front of the Kenny Dalglish Stand to the tunnel, twisted and tore through those with a Liverpool allegiance.

The 24-year-old has been a line-breaking revelation since October after his settling-in period, becoming more enterprising each week and if the setback is as bad as initially feared, it is a cruel blow for him and a sizeable one for the club and England.

Liverpool have, in truth, collectively navigated the negatives well this year.

It is about everyone on the bench, everyone behind the scenes, everyone in the home crowd, everyone involved who bought into the idea of restoring Liverpool as a titan in Europe and have contributed to remarkable scenes, remarkable results.

Porto were obliterated in the Last 16, Premier League champions Manchester City floored 5-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals, and for so long on Tuesday night, obituaries were being written about Roma’s run in the tournament.

But with two late away goals, the electricity of the Stadio Olimpico behind Eusebio Di Francesco’s side next week, and the memory of their comeback against Barca in the previous round still vivid, Liverpool have to conjure another distinguished display.

They will know that the scoreline could have been ballooned further in their favour at Anfield given the opportunities they created. They will know, too, that the reverse fixture will not be straightforward.

“Now we have to work again in Rome. That’s no problem,” Klopp said post-match.

“There would have been work for us to do if we’d won 5-0 because Roma would have tried everything to strike back anyway. That’s not a big difference. And what I learned tonight is that we can win the second game as well, even when it will be different. Roma need to score goals against us.

“I said it a few times and it should not sound like a warning or whatever, but we are not Barcelona. They are one of the two or three best teams in the world and they won so many things in the last few years. We didn’t. So we will fight with all we have for that result again.”

Klopp, overseeing his 150th game in charge on Merseyside, knew Liverpool could reach this stage.

And he will believe they can continue to tattoo themselves on the tournament.

Given all the evidence they have provided in the competition thus far, in which they are the highest scorers by some distance and have had spells where they make the unreal seem routine, it is easy to share his credence.