Way back in August I didn’t really think too much about the Champions League even after hearing how the group pairings had evolved.
I saw PSG as a mirror image of Manchester City, a team built on the funds of an international institution, in their case Qatar as opposed to a Saudi Kingdom.
My main thought centred on nearly all things domestic and I was hoping we’d improve on our league placing of fourth, maybe make an impact in the League Cup and/or FA Cup but I didn’t really see us as Manchester City’s biggest threat or, as has now happened, main rival on the fan front.
I’d enjoyed the Champions League in 2017/18 mainly because it was an unexpected adventure and even when everyone went in search of a route to Kiev, I still didn’t think any differently, come what may we’d had some fantastic nights and the old ground with its new Main Stand had suddenly found its traditional beliefs.
We know what happened, bloody hell Manchester City fans and their team still sing about it, but a new season meant fresh hopes and dreams.
So, when this season’s tournament started in September to me it was still secondary, I wanted Jürgen and the team to get the league campaign up and running and just see the Champions League as a bonus.
I didn’t agree with the comments of Gary Neville, I rarely do, about not concentrating on it in the way we had previously; it was still there, but back in September, the league mattered more.
Yet the PSG game at Anfield gave a hint of what everyone thought, see the reaction to the winning goal from Bobby Firmino and the crowd at the final whistle.
It might have set the tone and maybe the criticism the team faced after losing to a late goal in Naples told the fans still craved for just a little bit more.
The back to back games against Red Star were a total contrast to each other, they played reasonably well at Anfield but a 4-0 win could have been six. I don’t think too many expected us to trip up in Belgrade but we did, maybe our worst performance under Jürgen in a European game or in fact, possibly any game?
We were suddenly dependant on others or we would have ended up in the Europa League and despite the success of both Arsenal and Chelsea did anyone really want to be in the Europa League just six months after sampling those raucous nights at Anfield against Manchester City and Roma?
It would get worse after losing against PSG in Paris meaning the game against Napoli at Anfield became a win or bust for Liverpool.
Suddenly, it felt like the knockout stages had come a few months early; you could feel the tension around Anfield almost as soon as you arrived. That night I felt like it was back to normal, our team gave a performance which showed what it meant and deserved the narrow, but oh so vital win against the second-best team in Italy.
Looking back, the save Alisson made in the dying seconds – just how much has that single deed been worth to Liverpool in financial terms? Probably repaid his transfer fee in the blink of an eye. What made the performance for impressive for me was the fact the game was played in December amidst a heavy, heavy pre-Christmas schedule.
Returning home after the game I started to think about what we could do again in the Champions League; its part of the Liverpool DNA and does anywhere in England come alive on Champions League nights the way Anfield does?
We drew Bayern Munich, the pride of Germany, another team with a great European Cup history who can also sing, “We’ve won it five times” and of course there was the Jürgen link, there always will be while he’s our manager and we’re playing sides from Germany. The first leg didn’t quite take off but the way we played in Munich showed just what our club is all about and I think the Bavarian people also appreciated Liverpool.
The Champions League had come alive.
It reverts back to being like those glorious days of yesteryear when it was just a knockout competition. The very fact that four English teams made it through to the last eight added to the spice and even listening to the draw gets the nerves on edge and when that happens you know just what it all, means not just to our team but our massive fan base.
Having eased past Porto facing Barcelona in the semi final was the stuff of dreams. The Nou Camp, Luis Suárez, Phillipe Coutinho made it all just that little bit mouth watering and maybe we should include that Messi fella as well.
I personally didn’t take any comfort from the fact we’d played relatively well in Barça because when you lose 3-0, your performance seems to be somewhat overshadowed.
Like many, I didn’t see a comeback as being on the cards; I wouldn’t have taken any comfort from a glorious failure because we’d have still been out.
Glad to have to admit, I got it wrong.
If anybody wants to know what this European Cup means to Liverpool fans all they had to do was witness the scenes inside and outside Anfield. It was the night when the Chelsea game of 2005, the Manchester City game of 2018 and those now vintage games from a time long gone paled into a strange sort of insignificance.
This was something else.
When a game of football wipes not just politics off the front pages of the national papers, but also Royal births, then it had to be something special. When the added time board went up I winced, five minutes more; but didn’t our team just deal with it and when Milner won a free kick in front of the Sir Kenny Stand Anfield knew, Barça knew and the noise greeting the award of the free kick was reminiscent of a winning goal in most matches.
I think that moment will be frozen in time. So will the after match scenes.
I have little doubt the final will be nerve wracking and so it should be.
I know for sure, there will be sleepless nights in the days leading up to the game and after the way the competition has played out for both team and both sets of supporters there could be a few more twists and turns but the only thing I want to worry about on Sunday June 2ndis how do we sing “We’ve won it six times, in Madrid we won it six times” with the same feelings we do our Istanbul version?