Andriy Shevchenko’s missed penalty in Istanbul 13 years ago handed Liverpool their fifth European Cup, and after drawing the Reds at home to Roma in the first-leg of this season’s semi-finals, he’s gone a long way to giving the Reds a shot at winning number six.
Eusebio di Francesco’s side might well be the weakest side to have reached this stage of the competition, but the most crucial aspect of the tie is that Liverpool will have home advantage first.
The days of going away from home in Europe, earning a goalless draw, and then bringing your opposition back to your place to finish the job are over. Just ask José Mourinho.
When Pep Guardiola rocked up in L4 for the first-leg of the quarter-final with his team of media-ordained world-beaters, a gang of infallibly talented lads like them big mutants off Space Jam, nobody would have predicted they would crumble in such a rapid, arresting fashion.
Yes, Liverpool’s front three were quick out of the blocks, and you’re right, James Milner and Jordan Henderson were snapping at opposition heels right from the get-go, but it wasn’t just the performance of the on-pitch Reds, and the tactics employed by Guardiola, that allowed Jurgen Klopp’s side to blow away the United Arab Emirates’ most prized marketing tool after just half-an-hour
Setup aside, the crew-neck loving Catalan made one of the most fatal errors of his managerial career at kick-off in the first-leg. His mistake was this — Manchester City won the toss, and they turned Liverpool round to face the Kop.
Opponents may have a standard tendency to switch ends if the coin drop has landed in their favour, but you can’t ignore the context.
After their coach was forced to crawl through the Liverpool streets, past the Arkles, down Anfield Road, hounded by thousands of full-throated, pyro-waving scallies, Guardiola made the perplexing decision to allow Liverpool to attack the goal their most vociferous supporters were stood behind.
In that moment, he gave the Reds the impetus. He said to everybody in the ground, “Go on then, lads. Y’know the way you’ve been waiting ten years for this, and have already built-up one of your most sizzling atmospheres ever? Well, you can carry on with that for the next 45 minutes. Don’t worry about it, it’s the least I can do.”
Manchester City could not deal with the 11 Liverpool players on the pitch that night. But more than that, they couldn’t deal with me, they couldn’t deal with the lad stood next to me, and they couldn’t deal with the 50,000 other fuckers going absolutely mad for the duration.
The combination of the determination of the players, the intensity of the crowd, and the sense of bizarre spiritualism that surrounds Liverpool Football Club on big European occasions, was simply too much for Vincent Kompany and co. to handle. In a 180-minute tie, they were dead and buried after 30.
And now it falls to AS Roma to have to fight against all that.
Make no mistake, the Italians are here on merit. Their second-leg comeback over Barcelona was one of the most stunning in the competition’s history, and they also progressed from the round-of-16 against an extremely talented Shakhtar Donetsk side by overturning a first-leg deficit.
But they’ve not played against a team, or a crowd, quite like Liverpool’s.
The same supporters who screamed City out of town will be back at Anfield again a week on Tuesday, all aching for a final. All doing their part to make it happen.
There is a mood about the place this season. A sense that a story is unfolding before our very eyes. That we are living something that we’ll all be banging on about for decades to come. You look around at everybody else in the ground. Nobody has to say it. You can just see it. Their eyes screaming, “this is it.”
Because this is it.
And if we do win it…
Build a statue of Shevchenko outside the Kop.
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