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08th May 2019

Miracle Men: Liverpool’s pounding heart pulverises Barcelona

Melissa Reddy

Where to look?

At Gini Wijnaldum, his tears now washing the face that was so fierce and fixed earlier during a two-minute spell that helped make the implausible an actuality?

What about at Virgil van Dijk – eyes closed, fists clenched – repeatedly thundering out the words “come on?”

Wait! Over there, Jordan Henderson has his arms aloft and his heart on his sleeve as ‘We’ve conquered all of Europe, we’re never gonna stop’ rolls off his tongue.

Behind him, wide-eyed Trent Alexander-Arnold is breathing in all the scenes.  He, man of a historic match at 20, doesn’t know where to look either. There is a long, adoring pause in front of the Kop – a this is for you, I am one of you – before the Scouser slowly laps the ground to applaud his people.

He will wear that forever, underneath it all, every day.

Glance at Jürgen Klopp, the constructor of this great team turned conductor for the post-match rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Hang on, check out Fabinho, his emotions all spelling ‘did this really, actually, for real real just happen?’ – hug it out with Alisson.

Ah, there’s Mohamed Salah, in his ‘Don’t Give Up’ T-shirt with a smile as wide as the Mersey embracing the relentless Sadio Mane.

Where to look? Liverpool have risen from the dead to deliver another European miracle and so much is happening at the same time. Anfield is the happiest place on earth right now and as the chorus of ‘We shall not be moved’ lifts from the terraces, it is also the most defiant.

How did this happen? Seriously. How did Liverpool get here? Honestly. How, without Roberto Firmino, Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and having lost Andy Robertson to injury at half-time, did they erase a 3-0 Champions League semi-final deficit against Barcelona to send hordes scrambling for mad flight routes to Madrid and scandalously overpriced accommodation?

In the midst of the delirium that blanketed Anfield, Lionel Messi – hands on his hips, shrugged shoulders – bowed his head as he mouthed off a few frustrating words to himself.

He had known this very humiliation, this humbling was a possibility. It is why he raged last week when Barca failed to get a fourth at Camp Nou, warning afterwards: “We know the game isn’t over, we know we’re going to a very difficult stadium with a lot of history, where the fans are really behind their team.”

This tie was all meant to be about him and his one-man mission to deliver the Champions League trophy, but a Divock Origi-shaped wrecking ball – powered by a titanium collective spirit – smashed straight through that.

This was about Klopp’s Liverpool not giving in and refusing to give up on the pitch and off it. The comeback had begun long before the first whistle on Tuesday night: the manager telling the squad that an otherwise impossible task could be ticked off on account of their resilient attitude.

“I said to the boys before the game, ‘I don’t think it’s possible, but because it’s you I think we have a chance’ – it is because they are really mentality giants,” he explained post-match.

“It’s unbelievable after the season we played, the games we had, the injuries we have now in this moment. If you go out there and ask who bet a penny on us, I don’t think you’ll find a lot of people. And then going out there and putting a performance like this on the pitch is unbelievable.

“I’m really proud to be the manager of this team. What they did is so special and I will remember it forever. I don’t know if it happened before and I don’t know if it can happen again. The boys did it and it was brilliant.”

It would have been quite human for the German and his backroom staff, given the scale of the challenge aligned with Liverpool’s ballooning injury list, to conserve energy against Barca in preparation for their Premier League “final” on Sunday.

But how could a white flag at Anfield be a concrete consideration with the make-up of that dressing room and the bravado of the fanbase?

Why would Liverpool forsake the mentality that has been the foundation for their rapid, remarkable return as a force?

They wouldn’t. They couldn’t.

“The manager was so confident,” Wijnaldum revealed. “He believed. We believed. The fans believed.”

As Liverpool’s bus pulled into the stadium, accompanied by a red haze and a resounding chorus, the players knew they’d have the backdrop to do the unthinkable. As kick off approached, the noise inside hung in the air, the atmosphere sitting on your skin almost questioning ‘who are you not to believe?’

It was clear that the performance was already underway and when Origi netted on seven minutes, the swell of euphoria was so severe, it felt as though Anfield would combust.

When he performed the trick again on ’79 in a blink-and-you-missed-it bit of mastery with Alexander Arnold, punctuated by two Wijnaldum goals in-between, there was an explosion: of emotion, of relief, of unrestrained joy.

Exactly how Liverpool’s four goals were scored are details that take a back seat on nights like this. On nights where the captain receives a heavy kick to his knee, but gets up to galvanise his men with a display of panache and persistence. On nights where Alisson serves up the most world-class goalkeeping on loop with minimal fuss.

On nights where Xherdan Shaqiri, for all his in-game imperfections, tries and tries and eventually succeeds. On nights where Joel Matip, in the shadow of the man many rate as the world’s best defender, transforms into the ultimate thou shalt not pass machine…

On nights where everyone – the players, the coaching staff, the supporters – share one mind, one heart, one soul.

“We know this club is the mix of atmosphere, emotion, desire and football quality,” Klopp said. “Cut off one and it doesn’t work – we know that.

“If I have to describe this club then it’s a big heart and tonight it was obviously like crazy, pounding like crazy.

“You could hear it and probably feel it all over the world. I’m so happy we could give the people this experience and I’m really happy about having another chance to get things right from our point of view.”

This game – the madness, the miracle – is no less than Liverpool, on 94 points in the league, deserve to be encased in.

To bathe in the glow of such a titanic triumph is a reward of sorts not just for their phenomenal efforts domestically and the continent this season, but for their rebuild since October 2015, which has been done the right way: a cocktail of a unified vision, smart recruitment, incredible coaching and unwavering faith in their way.

“When I saw the boys after the game and saw the tears in their eyes, that’s football and they are professionals and it’s still like this,” Klopp said, his voice creaking at the top table.

“This club touches you like crazy, it’s like you feel much more than others in these moments. It’s really great, I love it.”

Another Champions League final awaits, the second in succession and third European showpiece under Klopp’s watch – read that again and take it in – granting another crack at silverware.

“Last year we really felt we have to go back – we have to go back, we cannot let it stand like this, that’s not possible,” the Reds boss said referring to the 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in Kiev last May.

“Now we get another chance and we will go for that, of course.”

Of course. This is what Liverpool now do.