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Champions League: Liverpool banish all doubts about lack of gamesmanship against Barcelona in historic Anfield comeback

Liverpool won 4-0 against a Lionel Messi led Barcelona, thereby, progressing to their second consecutive Champions League final with an aggregate of 4-3.

 Champions League: Liverpool banish all doubts about lack of gamesmanship against Barcelona in historic Anfield comeback

Liverpool's Divock Origi celebrates scoring their fourth goal with Xherdan Shaqiri, Fabinho and teammates. Reuters

Football is fairy tales for adults, and in Anfield, it has its most dramatic proponent. Football fills the vacuum of Narnia. It’s a stage where time and again, betting odds, improbability and the drudgery of everyday compromise gets blindfolded, gagged, put in a car trunk and taken to the river.

This game was the Champions League greatest comeback. With the pretext of Barcelona’s 3-0 lead at the Camp Nou, Catalan newspaper SPORT pre-recorded a congratulatory video for their home team two nights ago. It was leaked on the internet a few hours prior to kick-off. It was faux pas of Maracanazo proportions, when Brazilian newspapers congratulated their team on the day of the 1950 World Cup final versus Uruguay. It’s unclear whether that video reached the Liverpool dressing room, but the way Liverpool rained down on Barcelona with a flurry of full-blooded tackles, suggests that it probably did.

After being surreptitiously slapped and tricked by Messi into giving away the foul at Camp Nou, resulting in Barcelona’s free-kick goal, Fabinho can now tell his grandchildren of the day he outwitted the best player in the world. If karma was a dog from hell, then Liverpool’s Fabinho embodied its heel-biting spirit. The Barcelona midfield wilted around him. Witnessing Sergio Busquets give the ball away was like Roger Federer committing an unforced error, but many times more often. Arturo Vidal was Barcelona’s saving grace, that was until Fabinho sanded his edge away by luring him into committing a yellow card offence.

Divock Origi’s goal in the opening minutes was a tell-tale sign of a team unnerved. Losing possession deep in their half, allowed Sadio Mane to dink a ball through to Jordan Henderson at the edge of the box, whose parried away shot was turned in by Liverpool’s accidental saviour.

Liverpool faced a full-strength Barcelona team without Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Naby Keita. Jordan Henderson seemed like he was about to go off midway through the first half, but the captain was made from sterner stuff. Liverpool’s buccaneering full-back Andy Robertson had to go off at half-time through a shin injury from the wanton heel of Luis Suarez. It’s debatable whether Suarez’s contact on Robertson’s shin was premeditated, but if it was, then the former Liverpool player can claim an assist in the chain of events that sprung at Barcelona like a bear trap.

Gini Wijnaldum was brought on at half-time and James Milner was pushed to cover at left-back. It would have been understandable if Liverpool fans, at that moment, were a little uncomfortable with the idea of their number 7 going one-on-one with Barcelona’s Leo Messi, it would have been understandable. There was a breakneck momentum established by the midfield combination of Henderson, Milner and Fabinho that left Barcelona at ill ease. But as the footballing gods would have it, the introduction of the Dutch midfielder gave Liverpool a gear-shift.

Dallying on the ball by Jordi Alba allowed Trent Alexander Arnold to run a switchblade across Barcelona’s coin purse. When the 20-year put a low cross in, an onrushing Gini Wijnaldum finish was present and emphatically correct. The power on the ball was such that burrowed between the armpit of Barcelona goalkeeper, Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

The assist for Liverpool’s third goal came from arguably their worst performer on the night, Xherdan Shaqiri, and even his delivery was better than what Barcelona’s record signing Phil Coutinho could muster. Pretending to carry an injury and attempting to sabotage their Champions League qualification match versus Hoffenheim, former Liverpool player Coutinho burnt his bridges with the Liverpool management, trying to manufacture his move to Barcelona. Poetically, returning to play here at Anfield, Coutinho had his worst performance in a Barcelona shirt: Lost possession 12 times, lost 3 out of 3 aerial duels, and only completed to more passes than the Barcelona goalkeeper.

The ball swung in from the right met the ducked head of Gini Wijnaldum. He displayed the hang time reminiscent of peak Kevin Garnett, the legendary NBA power-forward for Boston Celtics.

Liverpool’s fourth goal banished all doubts about their lack of gamesmanship. Noticing the entirety of Barcelona’s backline having a lull of concentration, Alexander-Arnold swung an early, low cross in for Origi to take a golf swing and small the ball into the top corner.

We as essayists have the responsibility to make sure that our posterity can be inspired by the glow of second-hand glory. We document moments caught in the amber of their minds and explain to readers why it deserves to be there. I’m not sure if it will be possible on this occasion, as words fail to sum up the emotional and the narrative content of this Liverpool win.

All I can say, dear reader, that on the 7th of May, 2019, the northwest of England, the city of Liverpool, will find its place as the answer to the question of what’s possible in life and in football if you want it bad enough.

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Updated Date: May 08, 2019 17:12:23 IST