Three-nil down at half-time, you say? We’ve been here before, but only once and we all know what happened then.
The Miracle of Istanbul they called it, the defining match of Liverpool FC in the modern era; the game that always offers hope and engenders faith in football, and perhaps in life itself. The very thing which reminds that you should never give in and forever fight to take another breath.
Belief that Liverpool can prevail against Barcelona has bugger all to do with realism. Thinking that Liverpool can overturn a three-goal deficit against the world’s best in Lionel Messi and one helluva supporting cast is rooted in wild optimism. All day long we’ll have moments when we think anything is possible, only for those thoughts to be instantly soured by the practicality that blights our real lives.
Football though isn’t real life. After this exhausting, jubilant, triumphant season; a campaign which has repeatedly suggested that the Gods are smiling on us, that omens are at work, that the word “Liverpool” is written in bright lights, it is truly heart breaking to ponder it was all a trick and that reality bites. But, football isn’t real life.
When we get into Anfield tonight and hear that crackle, see those faces, watch those flags unfurl and hear those anthems ring out we will suspend disbelief. In our heads we all have our escape routes planned. One-nil up at half-time, a second any time before 85 minutes. Then, a frenzy, a whirlwind that makes a mockery of skill and talent and just comes down to Barcelona’s fear.
The Catalans won’t be looking forward to this. They have everything to lose. Spikey old Luis Suarez might think he’ll relish meeting the spite of the Anfield crowd but probably hasn’t bargained for its intensity. A great Liverpool player, he deserves a better reception than he’s going to get. No offence mate but we know you’ve got form for getting a bit riled. And riled you will get.
An old mate of my dad once said that 2-0 is a dangerous lead. I’m not sure what he thinks about 3-0 as he’s watching tonight from up above but there’s merit in the idea that the feel of something precious slipping away is a force hard to resist. The bigger they come, the harder they fall. Messi’s free-kick at the Nou Camp felt like the death knell but maybe, just maybe, chipping away at that extended buffer creates the only insane vibe that carries Liverpool through.
Mo Salah is a huge loss. Divock Origi though offers a different physical threat, along with his Midas touch. Daniel Sturridge probably hasn’t got the legs for this and Xherdan Shaqiri is more likely to get the nod, although Rhian Brewster – added to the squad – could be Jurgen Klopp’s wildcard. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another, with the burning injustice of a year lost to injury, with everything to gain.
Mad things have happened have happened in the Champions League in recent seasons, not least Barcelona’s surrendering of a 4-1 lead over Roma in last year’s quarter finals. They – even Messi – are mortal. Liverpool themselves were five up against Roma this time last year and ended up progressing only by 7-6 on aggregate.
Whatever the odds, stacked against Liverpool, what makes the seemingly impossible appear within the realms of credulity is the power of Anfield.
If this wonder of the football world comes to pass anywhere it happens at Anfield. And, the thing to take into the ground tonight is that while Barcelona should progress, if they don’t – we get to witness the night of all nights.
*Odds are subject to change