The Road to Madrid

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Article by Jack Gill 

Despite reach the final in Kiev last year, Liverpool were placed in Pot 3 after a fourth place finish in the Premier League last season as they looked to bounce back from their Champions League final disappointment in Ukraine.

The draw for the group stage wasn’t exactly nice for the Reds. French champions PSG were drawn from pot one to be in the same group as LFC, a fixture that the Reds knew would not be easy seeing as they tried to buy into being one of Europe’s elite clubs by spending a shit load of money on Neymar and Mbappe in the same season but somehow managed to be cleared of any FFP illegalities. As well as Napoli from pot two who had not long appointed the experienced Carlo Ancelotti and had gone toe-to-toe with Juventus for the Serie A title last season.

Liverpool, PSG and Napoli were also joined by Red Star Belgrade from pot four. A side not many had heard of in recent years but of course won the competition back in the 1990/91season when it was known as the European Cup. With many thinking Belgrade would be a walk in the park for the three other sides in the group, the Serbian side went onto show that they should not be underestimated.

Liverpool’s first match of the group stage was at Anfield against one of the favourites for the competition when it began, PSG.  In truth, the French side were poor at Anfield and despite losing, the 3-2 score line still somewhat flatters PSG after timid, tame and toothless performance.

The Reds took the lead on the half hour mark with a Daniel Sturridge header after a brilliant cross from the left hand side by Andrew Robertson. Six minutes later it was 2-0 to the Reds. Gini Wijnaldum was fouled in the box and James Milner slotted the penalty into the back of the net, despite Areola going the right way. Liverpool deserved their tow goal advantage but five minutes later PSG managed to pull one back. A very clever, instinctive finish from Belgian defender Thomas Meunier after a ‘pinball-like’ situation in the Liverpool area.

At the start of the second half, Liverpool had a goal disallowed after Sturridge appeared to leave a boot in on Areola, though it was an accident from the Englishman, it was the correct decision from the referee to rule out Salah’s strike. Sturridge and Mane then missed a couple of good chances for LFC to regain their two goal advantage but they were made to regret their missed chances somewhat when Mbappe equalised for the French giants in the 83rd minute as PSG benefitted from Mohamed Salah losing the ball in his own half.

Roberto Firmino had been unable to start this game after picking up an eye injury against Tottenham the weekend prior to this fixture but Jurgen Klopp made the decision to ring him on with 15 minutes to go and Jurgen Klopp wasn’t left disappointed as Firmino was the man who popped up in the closing stages of the game and produced the winner. The Brazilian danced through the PSG defence and finished brilliant past Areola in the 92nd minute to ensure Liverpool got the three points and had started off their Champions League campaign superbly.

Next up for the Reds was a trip to Italy where the Reds would taste their first European defeat of the season and to be honest, it was deserved. Liverpool finished the game without registering a single shot on target in what can only be described as an extremely poor performance from Liverpool who were out played by Napoli. That being said, Liverpool nearly came away with a point but Lorenzo Insigne finished past Alisson, sliding the ball into the back of the net after a cross from Jose Callejon in the 90th minute of the match.

Disappointment for the Reds but the Champions League run was not over yet and their next match was arguably the easiest as Red star Belgrade came to Anfield. The Reds breezed past Red Star with a 4-0 win to put them on 6 points at the halfway mark during the group stage. The first Liverpool goal came after twenty minutes with Roberto Firmino finishing well after Andy Robertson had pulled the ball back for the Brazilian. On the stroke of halftime, Mo Salah doubled Liverpool’s lead finishing extremely well after super play from the Reds. Just after the break, Liverpool were awarded a penalty after Sadio Mane was brought down by the Belgrade Captain Stojkovic, who appeared to put his arm across Sadio’s face. It was certainly a soft penalty, but it was given and Mo Salah made no mistake from the spot, powering the ball into the back of the net, making it 3-0 with his second of the day.

Liverpool continued to dominate the game despite not seeming to get out of first gear throughout and the Reds were rewarded for their dominance in the 75th minute of the match when they were awarded with a penalty for the second time in the game as El Fardou Ben (what a name by the way), was deemed to have handled a Trent Alexander-Arnold free kick. This time it was Sadio Mane’s turn to take a penalty, but the Senegalese man saw his spot kick tipped onto the crossbar by Borjan at the Kop end. Five minutes later, Sadio Mane made up for his missed penalty, poking past Borjan after a good lay off by Daniel Sturridge.

It was the return leg against Red star, in Belgrade that ended up being the biggest shock of Liverpool’s group stage as it ended in a 2-0 defeat for LFC. Milan Pavkov was the hero for Red Star Belgrade as his brace earned the Serbian champions a historic victory over the Reds. Pavkov’s first came in the 22nd minute after poor defending from Liverpool on a corner and the Serbian made no mistake with a powerful header into the back of the net. It was Pavkov’s first Champions League goal ever.  Six minutes later, Pavkov had his second ever Champions League goal and once again LFC had themselves to blame. Pavkov was allowed to roam with the ball at his feet without any player looking to tackle him before Pavkov produced a brilliant strike from distance to beat Alisson Becker. Liverpool dominated the rest of the game but never really looked like scoring as Belgrade sat back and managed to keep a clean sheet and nothing seemed to go Liverpool’s way. This result meant Liverpool had a lot to do in their final two games of the group stage away at PSG and at Home to Napoli. Napoli and PSG sharing the points in both their games helped Liverpool’s position a lot and meant that somehow, Liverpool were still top of the group.



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Liverpool’s trip to Paris could have seen them win the group if they were to beat the French Champions but unfortunately Liverpool did not want to make it that easy for themselves. PSG were ahead inside the first quarter of an hour through their left back Juan Bernat, who finished well after brilliant play from Verratti in the build-up. Minutes later, Verratti was lucky to stay on the pitch after showing his studs in a shin high tackle on Joe Gomez but somehow the Italian managed to escape red and was shown a yellow instead. Neymar and Mbappe were having fun on Liverpool’s right hand side in the first half and Neymar managed to double PSG’s lead eight minutes before half time rebounding after Alisson had brilliantly denied Cavani’s shot from an Mbappe cross. In first half stoppage time Liverpool were given a lifeline. Former Manchester United man Angel Di Maria fouled Sadio Mane just inside the area and the referee pointed to the spot. James Milner stepped up to take the penalty and sent Buffon the wrong way to put the Reds back in the game and cut the lead to 2-1. Just a minute after the break, PSG thought they’d restored their two goal advantage but for the offside flag correctly being raised against Marquinhos. There was a lot of gamesmanship going on from the French champions in the second half which really disrupted Liverpool’s flow and the reds found it very difficult to create many clear cut chances in a stop start game. Liverpool’s defeat at the Parc des Princess meant that the Reds had lost all three of their group stage games away from home and that they must either beat Napoli 1-0 or by two clear goals which interestingly was the same situation as what we faced in our final group stage game in 2004/2005, the last time we won it…

A 1-0 victory or winning by two clear goals is what Liverpool needed to do and they managed to advance to the knockout stages with a very professional performance. Mohamed Salah’s 34th minute superb solo goal was the only goal of the game but it was an entertaining fixture nonetheless. Liverpool had several opportunities to double their lead but Ospina was in fine form to deny golden opportunities from Salah, Mane and Henderson. From one goalkeeper to another as Alisson Becker kept Liverpool’s Champions League dream alive with an incredible save in stoppage time of the second half to deny Milik from getting the all-important equaliser.

Liverpool finished second in the group, just under PSG who topped the group and were drawn against Bayern in the round of 16. The Reds knew that it wouldn’t be straight forward however it is no secret that Niko Kovac’s Bayern side haven’t been at their exhilarating best this season. It was also a massive boost for Liverpool to hear that the Reds’ superb league form meant that every side was desperate to avoid LFC in the draw.

A Bayern vs Liverpool Round of 16 clash was very enticing for many, it would see Klopp going back to Germany to face a Bayern side that he was very familiar with from his time at Borussia Dortmund. After a 0-0 draw at Anfield in the first leg, the Reds knew they had it all to do in the second leg at the Allianz.

A positive from the first leg stalemate was that Liverpool did not concede an away goal and Klopp’s side knew that if they were to score at the Allianz they would have a brilliant chance of getting through to the quarter-finals. It started superbly for the Reds as well as Sadio Mane put Liverpool ahead in the 26th minute after a brilliant piece of skill to turn past Manuel Neuer and produced a magnificent finish to ensure the Reds took the lead and therefore Bayern would need to score at least two to go through.

Ten minutes later, Bayern struck back as Joel Matip turned the ball into his own net after a dangerous ball across the face of goal by Serge Gnabry, unwittingly. That goal meant that Bayern were back in the game but after their equaliser they didn’t have many clear cut chances as the Liverpool defence was extremely resolute and prevented Bayern for scoring a second. Liverpool weren’t done yet though and with just over twenty minutes to go, the Reds went ahead again. Virgil Van Dijk was the scorer with a fantastic header from a James Milner cross. It was the Dutchman’s fourth goal of the season.

Sadio Mane capped off an amazing night for LFC when he completed the victory and got his second of the game.  It was a lovely header by the Senegalese forward after an absolute worldie ball by Mo Salah. The Reds were superb all night in Munich and fully deserved to go through, they now faced a short wait to find out their opponents for the quarter-final.

Liverpool got some good fortune in the draw for the quarter-final as they were handed a tie against Porto. Quite probably the easiest possible draw for the Reds meant LFC would face the Portuguese Champions having beat them in last year’s round of 16 by a 5-0 aggregate scoreline after a 5-0 win in Porto and a 0-0 draw at Anfield. It was also confirmed that the winners of Liverpool vs Porto would face either Barcelona or Manchester United should they reach the last four.

Unlike last years tie against the Champions of Porto, this Champions league knockout game saw the first leg played at Anfield. It didn’t take the Reds long to go ahead, just five minutes in fact when a deflected Keita strike found the back of the net to see the Reds race into a 1-0 lead. Liverpool doubled their lead after 25 minutes through Roberto Firmino after a very well worked move. The Brazilian finished into an empty net from close range after a lovely ball across the face of goal by trent Alexander-Arnold. From this point, Liverpool managed the game brilliantly nullifying Porto’s counter attacks and making sure the Portuguese giants did not get an away goal at Anfield.

Liverpool took a 2-0 lead to the Estadio De Dragao, where they won 5-0 the last time they played there, on Valentine’s Day in 2018. The Reds got the vital away goal with 26 minutes on the clock as Sadio Mane scored for the Reds in the Champions League once again. The goal was originally ruled out as the linesman deemed Mane to be in an offside position but the referee went to VAR and VAR saw the goal as legal and Porto would need to score 4 to go through! With 25 minutes to go it was tie over as Liverpool doubled their lead, this time Mo Salah the scorer after a really quick counter attack from the Reds which was finished extremely coolly by the Egyptian. Van Dijk was so confident salah was going to score he celebrated before Mo had even got his shot away. Porto got their only goal of the tie three minutes later through Eder Militao who is now a Real Madrid player of course!

Militao rose above the Liverpool defence, who had switched off and headed past Alisson Becker and into the back of the net from a corner to give Porto a glimmer of hope. The glimmer of hope quickly changed to just a consolation as Liverpool went 3-1 up on the night and 5-1 up on aggregate with a Roberto Firmino goal in the 77th minute. Firmino nut-megged Iker Casillas with a header from an inch perfect cross by captain Jordan Henderson to completely put the tie to bed. In much the same as the away leg in Munich, Van Dijk got himself on the scoresheet in Porto getting a late fourth, finding himself unmarked from a James Milner corner. Liverpool won the tie 6-1 on aggregate and Barcelona beating Manchester United 4-0 on aggregate meant that LFC would face the Catalan giants in the 2018/19 Champions League semi-final.

Liverpool vs Barcelona. Whatever happens, you would bet your bottom dollar that this fixture would be absolutely tantalising. The reality was, this may go down as one of the best and biggest fight backs in Champions League history.

It started at the Nou Camp. Liverpool actually played superbly in Spain but would come away battered and defeated after some brilliance from one of the best footballers the world has ever seen. Former Liverpool great Luis Suarez got Barcelona’s first in Spain, gambling as Jordi Alba whipped a ball in and Suarez ran between Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk to poke the ball past Alisson into the back of the net after 26 minutes. In the 75th minute, good fortune ensured that Barcelona doubled their lead. A Luis Suarez strike hit the bar and landed at the feet of Lionel Messi who was never going to miss when handed an opportunity inside the six-yard box.

Five minutes later, Barcelona were controversially awarded a free-kick. There’s no disputing that Fabinho fouled Messi but the Argentine appeared to strike Fabinho in the face as the Brazilian tackled him. Another problem with the free-kick was that the ball was moved about ten yards forward from where the foul was committed. Nonetheless, what happened next was truly world class. Lionel Messi produced one of the greatest free-kicks in European Cup history to make it 3-0 to Barcelona. Liverpool had many chances to get a crucial away goal at the Nou Camp. Mo Salah struck the post with an opportunity he really should have scored and Milner and Mane also missed very good chances. Many criticised Klopp’s team selection which saw Gini Wijnaldum in the false nine position after the game but it was important to remember that this was only the halfway stage and there was another 90 minutes to play in Liverpool six days later.

Barcelona came to England with a 3-0 advantage and were the firm favourites to make it to the Champions League final BUT the Catalans massively underestimated Liverpool and Anfield. Liverpool were without two key players for the game as both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino were absent and Naby Keita was also unavailable through injury but that didn’t stop the reds from producing an incredible comeback.

Liverpool went 1-0 up on the night after just seven minutes with Divock Origi getting on the scoresheet. Origi, who was filling in for the injured Roberto Firmino finished after an initial shot by Jordan Henderson was parried into the Belgian’s path after being parried by Ter Stegan. This made the Anfield crowd roar even louder and there was an element of belief in the stadium after the early goal. Luis Suarez, who quickly lost his respect from Liverpool supporters during this tie was lucky to get away with kicking out at Andy Robertson. The Scotsman however, not as lucky as he was forced off at halftime through injury. His replacement, Gini Wijnaldum came on and quickly became a hero.

Nine minutes after entering the pitch, Wijnaldum scored to make it 2-0 and now 3-2 to Barcelona on aggregate. Trent won the ball high up the pitch and put a cross into a dangerous area of the opposition box which Gini ran onto and finished superbly. Two minutes later, Gini struck again to make it 3-3 on aggregate with a brilliant header from a Xherdan Shaqiri cross from the left. The Anfield crowd was now louder than ever as there was now a real belief that Liverpool were going to be Champions League finalists for a successive year. With 10 minutes left on the clock, young scouser Trent Alexander-Arnold produced a piece of brilliance and showed the world his intelligence as he caught the Barcelona defence sleeping and produced a quick corner. The only other player on the pitch that was switched on was Divock Origi who finished past Ter Stegan. There was lots of confusion but the goal was rightfully given and the 4-0 victory was enough to put Liverpool in the Champions League final after braces from Divock Origi and Gini Wijnaldum.

So there we have it, Liverpool’s road to Madrid where we will face Tottenham in the 2018/19 Champions League final. Can Liverpool forget last year’s disappointment and get a sixth European Cup, in Madrid?

 

Article by Jack Gill 


 

 

 

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