The greatest team in Europe stopped, but a 20-year-old from West Derby in Merseyside was still thinking. Trent Alexander-Arnold sold Barcelona the dummy that resonated across the globe, and sent Liverpool to another Champions League final.
What a brain, what audacity. Divock Origi, who has scored some of the most important goals in the history of this club, while being its fifth choice striker, got the winner but Alexander-Arnold was the evil genius behind.
He walked over to the ball by the corner flag, seemed to change his mind about taking, and stepped away. Barcelona, at that moment, relaxed, regrouped, some even turned their backs. Alexander-Arnold switched direction with a greyhound’s speed and whipped it on. Origi met it first time and Barcelona’s stood baffled. That old one? How could they be so foolish? How could they be so…out?
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE
LIVERPOOL: (4-3-3) Alisson 7.5; Alexander-Arnold 8, Matip 7.5, Van Dijk 8, Robertson 7.5(Wijnaldum 46, 8.5); Fabinho 8.5, Milner 8.5, Henderson 8; Mane 8.5, Shaqiri 7.5 (Sturridge 90), Origi 9
SUBS NOT USED: Mignolet (GK); Lovren, Gomez, Brewster, Woodburn
GOALS: Origi (7, 79), Wijnaldum (54, 56)
BOOKINGS: Fabinho (11), Matip (66)
COACH: Jurgen Klopp 8
BARCELONA: (4-3-3) Ter Stegen 6; Sergi Roberto 6, Pique 7, Lenglet 6, Alba 6; Rakitic 6, Busquets 6.5, Vidal 6.5 (Arthur 75, 6); Coutinho 5.5 (Semedo 60, 6), Suarez 6, Messi 6.5
SUBS NOT USED: Cillessen (GK); Malcom, Umtiti, Vermaelen, Alena
BOOKINGS: Busquets (45+1), Rakitic (53), Semedo (76)
COACH: Ernesto Valverde 6.5
REFEREE: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey) 8
MAN OF THE MATCH: Divock Origi
Yet out they are. Magnficently out. Stupendously out. Liverpool did not even need extra time. They overturned a three-goal deficit, won 4-0 and deserved it. This was a magnificent performance, greater even than that night in Istanbul when, for the record, the score ended 3-3 and there were long periods when Liverpool were poor.
They were wonderful here. Shorn of two of their greatest players, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, and then Andrew Robertson for the second half. But that changed the game, ironically, for the better – because in brought in another of the night’s matchwinners: Georginio Wijnaldum.
To call him a super sub really doesn’t do it justice. Super subs are strikers, chucked on as a last resort. Wijnaldum had a meatier role, shoring up midfield, so James Milner could go to full-back. But Wijnaldum wanted more. So he turned this semi-final on its head, instead.
It was Wijnaldum’s second-half goals that got Liverpool level and shook Lionel Messi and Barcelona to their foundations. When Liverpool scored early there was hope – but few could have imagined this, two goals in three minutes to level the aggregate score at 3-3, and give Liverpool the momentum for a momentous victory.
Wijnaldum has a knack for it at this stage in the competition. He has only scored one other Champions League goal and that was in the semi-final against Roma last year. That was another crazy tie, although after this we may have to redefine lunacy after this. So let’s keep it simple. This is how Wijnaldum brought Barcelona to their knees.
In the 54th minute, he arrived late into the box, to meet a perfect cross from Alexander-Arnold. His shot was low and straight and maybe goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen should have done better. He didn’t.
Liverpool were a goal away. Then, two minutes later, Xherdan Shaqiri hit a lovely cross that Wijnaldum met with a header. Level. But more than that, really. From there, it seemed there could only be one winner.
The pre-match soundtrack at Anfield told its owm story. Lots of songs about everything ending up alright – Three Little Birds by Bob Marley – lots of songs about dreams and belief. ‘Don’t Stop Believing,’ by Journey will have been recognisable to some as the song that played out the finale of The Sopranos. Not that it worked out too well for Tony.
Given the task, cynics might have suggested an alternate playlist. They’re Coming To Take Me Away (Ha-Haaa!), perhaps – or a double from The Ramones, Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment, followed by I Wanna Be Sedated. Yet Anfield on European nights has rarely been home to the normal, mundane or expected, and so it was here.
Jurgen Klopp’s instruction, if Liverpool were to fail, was to ‘fall brilliantly’. They did so much better than that. They gave Barcelona a frightening ordeal and one of the greatest matches this stadium has ever witnessed. And that, as you know, is saying something.
Mo Salah was in the stand wearing a shirt with the message ‘Never give up’ and the reason Liverpool could feel the slightest smidgeon of optimism is that if Barcelona lose in Europe, they tend to do so spectacularly.
Their last three defeats in this competition have been by 3-0, 3-0 and 4-0 – all scorelines that could send Liverpool through, or at least to extra time and penalties. Scoring early against them tends to have a very positive effect, too, so the mood once Liverpool went ahead after seven minutes went beyond euphoria towards frenzy.
From the start, Liverpool were on the front foot, ferocious, ambitious, swarming all over Barcelona, allowing them no time on the ball, and precious little to think.
Inside the first minute, Sadio Mane had fed Xherdan Shaqiri whose cross-shot flew across the face of goal, desperate for a touch. From the next attack, though, this match got the goal that transformed it.
Jordan Henderson – a lion, as always on these occasions – battled through after a poor Jordi Alba header had set up Mane, but looked to have wasted his chance when his shot flew too near to Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
He only parried it, however, and Divock Origi – the hero of Saturday’s win over Newcastle – drove it into the unattended net. Game on. That Barcelona then had the better chances of the half was not entirely surprising, however.
This is a Liverpool team shorn of Salah and Roberto Firmino, remember. Origi and Mane were outstanding, but that is a lot of threat, and a lot of goals, to be missing.
Plus, an out ball to Lionel Messi is always going to produce danger; Luis Suarez was up to his usual tricks, too, some good, some bad, but always a nuisance. When he ensured Fabinho got an early booking – just 11 minutes in – it left Liverpool’s midfield on tenterhooks.
More so after half-time, too, when the magnificent Andrew Robertson went off having collected a knock in a clash with, who else, Suarez. Some replays made it look innocent, others less so.
He’s not the sort that gets the benefit of the doubt, is he. ‘Cheat, cheat, cheat’ cried the locals – to which the rest of football might reply that, yes, that’s what we were trying to tell you. Sergio Busquets was then booked for taking out Fabinho in the air. It wasn’t a dirty game but it was a thunderously physical one.
Alisson had to be at his best on more than one occasion. In the 14th minute, a quite sensational crossfield ball from Arturo Vidal picked out Jordi Alba, who sped down the flank and cut it back for Messi.
His shot necessitated a fine save, as did one from Philippe Coutinho four minutes later after Messi had unselfishly put him in. Maybe he regretted that. Certainly, when Coutinho’s corner was cleared he didn’t mess about – he went it alone and shot just wide.
He is invariably at the centre of all that is good in Barcelona, his near miss again just before half-time, his delight of a pass to Alba who was kept out, one on one, by Alisson.
It was the last act of an extraordinary first-half. Compared to what was to follow, mind, that was rather sedate.