Liverpool and European competition is one of the most exciting combinations in world football and something fans have sadly been deprived of for far too long. This season Jurgen Klopp’s red arrows have taken the Champions League by storm and have topped the scoring charts with 40 goals in total; totalling 10 more than second place Real Madrid whom they will meet in the final. As the competition has progressed, parallels with the the winning campaign of 2005 have been drawn. Liverpool entered into both cup runs as underdogs and also did not compete in the competition in the previous season on both occasions. There were moments of luck along the way but also the undying glow of Anfield that lit up both campaigns.
Liverpool past and present…lucky?
2005 is remembered by most for the miraculous comeback in Istanbul against AC Milan, but the Liverpool tight rope that year stretched right back to the group stage. Had it not been for a last gasp Steven Gerrard belter against Olympiakos then the reds would have toppled at the first step. They scrambled out of the group on goal difference ahead of the Greek side and went on to win a two-legged tie against Bayer Leverkusen 6-2 on aggregate. The result was not dissimilar to their 5-0 demolition of Porto in the same round this year.
Next came Juventus, led by Del Piero and Ibrahimovic, a tie that Liverpool started with Anthony Le Tallec and Milan Baros up front. Even after a 2-1 victory at home it was still more than likely that Juve would score in Turin but a 0-0 draw guaranteed progression. Liverpool also entered their tie with Manchester City this year as underdogs but they proved the doubters wrong with a 5-1 aggregate win. This was much more convincing on paper than it was in reality as a string of decisions went the reds way during a chaotic first half in Manchester. Back in Turin, Cannavaro rattled the woodwork in the final minutes, if he had scored then the reds would have been out on the away goals rule.
Ghost of Garcia and the spectre of Milner
The tough fixtures kept coming as Liverpool met Chelsea in 2005 and Roma in 2018, two semi-finals that couldn’t have been more different. But Liverpool continued to ride their luck on both occasions. Luis Garcia’s ‘ghost goal’ at Anfield went down in history as one of the most controversial moments in European football as it took Liverpool into the final without the ball ever crossing the line. Against Roma it all seemed wrapped up as Liverpool led 5-0 at home with ten minutes to go but two late goals from the Italian side left a bitter taste. The late flurry so nearly came back to bite Klopp’s men as they lost the away leg 4-2 and were once again on the receiving end of some generous refereeing decisions alongside a comedic James Milner own-goal.
What happened in the 2005 final against Milan needs no summary but its sheer ridiculousness alongside the continuous moments of ‘luck’ that Liverpool have received throughout both campaigns causes one to question whether there is another constant involved? Is there something in the Anfield DNA that propels them through such unlikely scenarios? Even Jurgen Klopp admitted that “Liverpool always has to take the slightly more difficult way” after the first leg against Roma.
The main similarity between the two campaigns is the way Liverpool over-performed at home but struggled when away. When the two squads are compared there is very little European pedigree between them yet this never showed under the lights of Anfield. This can be put down to the experience of the fans, who watched their team win the competition 4 times in 7 years in the late 70s and early 80s. Craig Bellamy described how this experience gets transferred to the players when they play in Anfield, allowing them to rise a level and win games by unthinkable margins or keep clean sheets against all the odds. This explains why Liverpool have lived on the edge in games away from home but looked supremely comfortable on their own patch.
This is no doubt a characteristic that Klopp will look to improve and if he lifts the champions league trophy on Saturday then that experience may solve the problem for him, but such a vulnerability becomes crucial in the context of finals. In Istanbul it was clear at half time that Liverpool’s lack of experience and their big-stage nervousness had caused them 45 minutes of suffering at the hands of Hernan Crespo. The legendary comeback was made possible because the atmosphere and history and passion of Anfield and its fans was channelled through their captain. At half time the coaching staff left the dressing room and Steven Gerrard roasted his teammates. He told them that he was a Liverpool kid and felt humiliated by their performance. He declared that if they scored a goal in the first fifteen minutes then they would win and, of course, he stepped up and nodded one in right on cue.
Can the Reds raise their road game?
The question that has to be answered this Saturday is whether the present-day team have the ability to summon up the power of Anfield when standing in the Kyiv stadium with as many white shirts as red looming down on them. The Europa league victories against Dortmund and Villarreal at Anfield were giant but the performance against Sevilla in the final was weak. Does the team now have enough strength in depth to keep calm, avoid the chaos and rely more on ability and less on passion? Or has Klopp’s style solidified a weakness that has for some time been in serious need of attention?
If all that is too uncertain for you maybe it’s time for the big reveal. If you believe in destiny and the inevitability of history repeating itself then the Champions League trophy is already firmly planted in the cabinet at Anfield. In 2005 there was a royal wedding, Manchester United lost the FA cup final to a London club and Liverpool won the Champions League. Ringing any bells? If that isn’t enough, in 1981 Real Madrid beat Bayern Munich in the semis and Liverpool beat an Italian club (Inter Milan). The result was a Liverpool 1-0 victory over Madrid in the final. If there is any justice in the world then the stars are well and truly aligned and Real Madrid will fail to retain the trophy for a third year running. Liverpool’s time has come again… we hope!