The most impressive thing about Liverpool is that they truly believed. They believe like no others in these parts and last night they believed that the most unlikely comeback would occur at Anfield until it came true.
They believed that a substitute could come from the bench to score twice in two minutes with six touches, as Georginio Wijnaldum did in the second half. They believed that Divock Origi, with four goals all season and not one ever in the Champions League, could conjure two more. They believed that Trent Alexander-Arnold would deliver the most ingenious of quick-thinking corners to set up Origi for the decisive fourth.
Everywhere across Liverpool at Christmas time they must seriously believe that Santa Claus still comes down the chimney overnight to leave presents under the tree, and he probably does, because he wears Liverpool’s red.
Where to begin on such an astonishing night? The corridor of red that greeted the team coach as it rolled towards Anfield? The pre-match songs well before kick-off? The sheer, harsh sound from the stands constantly clawing at the Barca players’ skin, tugging their shirts, forcing them into mistakes they would otherwise not have made?
Some teams just cannot avoid buckling under the immense weight of Anfield on a big European night and Barcelona cracked.
Lionel Messi, for example, in the 16th minute, on the ball with Barcelona practically four on one, options left and right, delaying that split second for Vigil van Dijk to make the tackle. There is little in this world that can force a Messi mistake, but Anfield can. One Barcelona goal at that point surely killed this game and it should have been then.
But Liverpool believed from the very first minute, as the team attacked and Xherdan Shaqiri’s ball almost reached Jordan Henderson, only for Jordi Alba to reach it first with a toe. Anfield exploded. They knew.
Then they scored. The early goal, after seven minutes, they craved. Henderson’s low shot was saved well by Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s dive but Origi tapped in the rebound. His first Champions League goal. What a time to score it.
The hatred towards Luis Suarez was the most visceral you will ever experience at a football match. Having riled up the whole of Liverpool by the way he celebrated scoring Barcelona’s opener in the first leg, he approached this match by saying he would not celebrate at Anfield and was expecting a warm welcome.
Too late, now. As he stood over the ball waiting to kick off, the noise was loud and angry, the sound a snarl would make if it made a sound — surely one of the most booed starts to a match in history. It continued every time he touched the ball, joined by abusive chants and shouts of “cheat”. Suarez is nothing but the fiercest of competitors when he is on your side, and a cheat when he is on the other. Early on, Fabinho won the ball but went through Suarez with the force of a bullet train. The locals celebrated as though a goal had gone in, then booed as loudly when the midfielder was booked.
Andy Robertson believed when he ruffled Messi’s hair in the second minute after the Argentine was bundled over following one of his dribbles through the middle. Messi was furious, and wagged a finger at the full-back. Nobody likes having their hair messed up. More fool he who angers the gods. But Robertson knew.
The greatest irony, though, was that Suarez, the most hated man in Anfield, forced the substitution that resulted in two second-half goals, scored in two stunning minutes, by the player who came on. Suarez appeared to flick his legs back and kick out at Robertson towards the end of the first half and the Scotland full-back, one of Liverpool’s best players this season, made it to the whistle but not on to the pitch after the break. On came Wijnaldum. On came two unlikely goals.
Alexander-Arnold lost the ball on the right, then won it back straight away with that punishing high press that Jurgen Klopp demands. The right-back drove down the flank then drilled in a cross and Wijnaldum met it first time to send the ball through Ter Stegen — not the Barcelona goalkeeper’s finest hour.
Then pandemonium. A second goal in two minutes. The tie level. Milner, who had slotted in at left-back for the injured Robertson, crossed and Wijnaldum headed in. Six touches – two of them goals.
They still needed one more. They were suddenly defensive. Nervous. Then genius: Alexander-Arnold went to walk away from taking a corner, but saw Origi free and darted back to fire the ball to him. Origi scored.
It was the result they had believed in all along.