Liverpool needed a perfect performance to overcome a 3-0 aggregate deficit against Lionel Messi and Barcelona in Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal second leg.
They got it. Despite playing without injured attackers Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, an early strike from Divock Origi sent Jurgen Klopp’s team on its way. Two more in a three-minute span from second half sub Georginio Wijnaldum leveled the total-goals series and stunned the visitors before Origi added the winner — his second in as many games — in a match that will go down as one of the greatest comebacks in the history of Europe’s top club competition.
The decisive goal was not without controversy:
Still, it’s impossible to argue that the Reds didn’t deserve to advance to the June 1 finale. Liverpool, last year’s Champions League runner-up, was the better team at Anfield, just as they had been in Barcelona despite the unflattering first-leg score line.
They outshot Barca on Tuesday as they had at the Nou Camp, and the home side always looked the more likely to score next after Origi — whose late header against Newcastle on Saturday kept Liverpool’s dream of a first English title in almost 30 years alive — buried Jordan Henderson’s rebound just seven minutes in after Jordi Alba uncharacteristically gave the ball away in midfield:
When Liverpool’s second goal didn’t immediately arrive, the visitors began to find a groove. Slowly but surely, Barcelona started to create quality chances to secure an away goal and effectively put the series out of reach before the half was out.
First Reds backstop Alisson Becker made a good stop on former Kop darling-turned enemy Philippe Coutinho. Then, on the ensuing corner kick, Lionel Messi proved he’s a mortal by pulling his wicked shot a little wide:
It went more or less the same way early in the second half, with one critical difference. This time, the floodgates finally opened for the Reds. Liverpool manager Klopp looked like a genius after summoning Wijnaldum from the bench at the intermission.
The Dutchman’s first goal pulled Klopp’s side within one, and seemed to foreshadow the inevitable:
Before Liverpool’s supporters were done celebrating, Wijnaldum got on the end of another cross, putting the hosts up 3-0 and evening the overall score:
There was still more than half-an-hour to play at that point, with the prospect of extra time and penalties looming large. But Barcelona already looked thoroughly beaten. The outcome seemed almost predetermined at that point, only a matter of time before the comeback was complete.
Indeed, Origi delivered a deserved victory no matter how the play came about. Like the club’s comeback win over AC Milan in the final in 2005, this was a heavyweight match for the ages, one that Liverpool fans won’t soon forget. That holds regardless of what happens on the final day of the Premier League season or, as it happens, even in Madrid next month. That said, Liverpool fans surely now believe that fortune has a favorite, that Lady Luck will wearing Red the rest of the way.