The Merseyside Miracle: Liverpool completes epic comeback as Barcelona collapses

Liverpool Football Club has been the English champion 18 times, second to only Manchester United and its 20 titles. The Reds have been European champions five times, tied for third-most ever and as many as the two next-best English clubs combined.

In its long and storied history, Liverpool has known glory and miracles, eras of total dominance and a Champions League final won in spite of a three-goal half-time deficit. But, somehow, improbably, it’s never had a year like this one, its 127th season.

This, somehow, improbably, might well be the best season in club history. Because Jurgen Klopp’s swashbuckling side will collect at least 94 Premier League points this season with three more up for grabs. Regardless, that will be the most in its history.

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And on Tuesday, Liverpool matched and perhaps exceeded its greatest European triumph. Because in that aforementioned final, in 2005 against AC Milan, it took the Reds penalty kicks to fully crawl out of the three-goal hole they’d dug themselves into. It came to be known as the Miracle of Istanbul. But then what does that make this, the 4-0 home win over FC Barcelona?

Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum (C) celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the Champions League semifinal, second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Barcelona at Anfield, Liverpool, England, Tuesday, May 7, 2019. (AP)
Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum (C) celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the Champions League semifinal, second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Barcelona at Anfield, Liverpool, England, Tuesday, May 7, 2019. (AP)

What do we call Liverpool coming back from a 3-0 plastering in Catalonia last week, when Barca all too casually neglected to score a half-dozen? When Barca hadn’t lost in Europe all season? Hadn’t lost with its regulars since Nov. 11? Hadn’t lost by more than two goals in more than a year? When Liverpool was missing two key forwards in Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino just when it needed all those goals?

However it’s remembered, whatever name it goes by, this game will only add to the lore of the 2018-19 season, with Liverpool reaching its ninth European final and unexpectedly getting the chance to avenge last season’s lost European title game to Real Madrid.

Bizarrely, however, Liverpool will likely miss out on the Premier League title, in spite of losing just a single game. But that’s less to do with Liverpool than Manchester City’s own bespoke brilliance, seeing to it that a Sunday victory at 17th-placed Brighton & Hove Albion will secure a second straight title. Like Liverpool, City just hasn’t let up all season long, collecting points at its own record-shattering pace.

But that doesn’t dull the magic of this Liverpool season, or the potency of the juggernaut Klopp has assembled on Merseyside. Because not even the club’s most faithful believers could have fully convinced themselves that this result awaited.

Klopp, however, believed. “We are far away from giving up,” he’d said before the game. “It’s football. That’s why we give it a try. As long as we have 11 players, on the pitch, we will try. Nothing else. Just try it. If you can do it, wonderful. And if not, then fail in the most beautiful way.” But even Klopp had smirked slightly in acknowledging the height of the task before him and his depleted team.

Yet an early Jordi Alba turnover in his own third enabled Liverpool’s opening goal when the ball eventually reached Divock Origi via Sadio Mane and Jordan Henderson’s saved shot. That made it a goal in just seven minutes.

Barca created bags of chances but converted none of them, thanks in large part to strong goalkeeping from Alisson. Lionel Messi had a rare off-night, putting routine finishes off-target and taking an unusual number of bad touches. And it seemed that the longer the Catalans went without scoring, the less likely became the away goal, which would surely have stopped the comeback cold.

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks dejected after the UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg match between Liverpool and Barcelona at Anfield on May 7, 2019 in Liverpool, England. (Getty Images)
Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks dejected after the UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg match between Liverpool and Barcelona at Anfield on May 7, 2019 in Liverpool, England. (Getty Images)

After halftime, substitute Georginio Wijnaldum met a low cross and rifled it past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. And then the Dutchman dropped the perfect header into the net from the Xherdan Shaqiri cross to tie the aggregate score. Finally, Trent Alexander-Arnold, all of 20 years old, savvily pretended to walk away from a corner kick, only to turn around and take it quickly, taking the Barca defense by surprise. He connected with Origi, whose uncontested finish was impeccable to give him a second goal and complete the unfathomable upset.

Barca knew right away that it was beaten. Its attempts thereafter were half-hearted. It all smacked of its capitulation to AS Roma in the quarterfinals last year, when manager Ernesto Valverde and Messi had also been ahead by three goals after the home leg, only to lose by three in Rome and go out on away goals. This makes it four straight seasons that Barca has fallen short of the final. Four seasons when it should have done better in Europe.

But to credit this result entirely to Barca’s collapse sells Liverpool short on a fearless effort, seemingly inspired by a manager who’s been around long enough that games have to be played before their outcome can be extolled. Who knows well that nothing in soccer is preordained.

Because every now and again, once a decade, maybe longer, something miraculous happens.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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