Liverpool had outplayed Manchester City comfortably in the first leg, running out to a commanding 3-0 lead in the first half before defending stoutly in the second to deny City an away goal that would have changed the math heading into the second leg.
In that second leg, though, things didn’t go to plan. City were rampant, the Reds looked panicked. They mostly stopping City getting quality chances, but they were being outplayed badly and they only barely survived the first half having conceded once.
When the halftime whistle blew, there probably wasn’t a Liverpool fan anywhere feeling especially confident, despite the 3-1 aggregate scoreline, and the players didn’t look all that confident, either. It was up to manager Jürgen Klopp to find a way to turn it around.
“He calmed us all down and then gave us a little bit of a rocket,” said Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain when asked about what happened at the half against City to get Liverpool back into the match—after which they scored two goals of their own to seal the tie.
“He just said, ‘No matter what we do now, if we go though, we go out, we are going to do it our way.’ I think we did that much better in the second half. That’s credit to him and the rest of the coaching staff. We just said we need to get a grip of ourselves.”
A bit of calm to settle frayed nerves and then a bit of fire for self-belief, belief that Liverpool deserved their place at that stage of the Champions League, had earned their way there on merit. Belief that they had the ability to compete with a side as good as City.
After all, they’d shown it before—the commanding first leg victory and one in the league as well, a 4-3 rollercoaster win at Anfield in January. City in the first half had begun to feel an inevitable force, but Liverpool were still well positioned. They just needed to play football.
They did that in the second half—played their way. And in so doing more than earned their place in the semi finals with a lopsided 5-1 aggregate victory over the best team in the Premier League. Now, whoever comes next, that will give them even more confidence.
“We were still in a strong position and in the lead and we needed to do better than we did in the first half,” Oxlade-Chamberlain added. “We said, whatever we do, we are going to play our way.”