clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Agony and the Ecstasy

New, comments

Anfield bewitched every single soul in attendance as Liverpool produced one of the biggest comebacks in the club's proud history to beat Borussia Dortmund.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

In his first interview as Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp urged Liverpool fans to "turn from doubters to believers." He talked of remembering history as something that belonged to the past and encouraged Liverpool "to write a new story" with effort and belief at its core. Liverpool seemed to be the right fit for a manager who was given time at both Mainz 05 and Borussia Dortmund to create something special that fans and observers could connect with as well as respect. Liverpool were desperate for a leader, and in a footballing culture where the cult of the manager prevails, Klopp was universally welcomed with a feverish outpouring of optimism.

After a creditable goalless draw at White Hart Lane opened the Klopp era, the 48-year-old was to take in the Anfield experience for the first time as Liverpool manager. Gone were the days when Anfield despondently bore witness to 120 minutes of toil against Carlisle United or would send off a legend with meek surrender. Jürgen Klopp, builder of teams, would reignite one of Europe's grandest clubs. Rubin Kazan were his first visitors and Anfield was excited, expectant even. Klopp may present himself as a normal and average individual, but there is an uncanny ability to cut through to truths that some may not be prepared to accept.

"First of all we have really to talk with all LFC fans and talk about what our expectations are, because expectations can be a real big problem," Liverpool's first-ever German manager said. "It’s like a backpack with 20 kilos more. It’s not so cool to run with this, We have to think about this then we can start."

On a cheeful Thursday night in late October, Liverpool's players and fans were united in carrying that backpack into Anfield. The atmosphere was rich, an improvement over what had become an arena where supporters struggled to find inspiration in the dugout and on the pitch. Klopp was welcomed warmly by fans who were delighted to call him their manager, but something was still missing from the Anfield air that the mere presence of Klopp could not quite solve.

A month later, Klopp expressed his concerns at fans leaving when there were still minutes left on the clock against Crystal Palace. A first loss as Liverpool manager took place at Anfield, where part of the manager's challenge became clear: work with a fanbase that has struggled to believe yet still expects. It's what he addressed indirectly when speaking as Liverpool manager for the first time, but for a manager who is famous for his plain speaking, the mixture of shock at his players and fans could not be contained. Within his words were the revelation of the strange symbiosis between the two.

"The goal came after 82 minutes," said Klopp, failing to hide his disappointment. "Twelve minutes to go, and I saw many people leaving the stadium. I turn around and saw them go. I felt pretty alone at this moment. I'm not disappointed. Maybe it's easier to leave with ten minutes to play. Maybe there are reasons. But we are responsible. We have to make sure that nobody leaves the stadium even a minute before the last whistle because [they know] anything can happen. That's what we have to show them, and today we didn't."

There has been relentless talk of a rebuilding job and clearing out the squad, but Klopp's greatest task is to lift the players and fans who will walk this journey with him. Finally, Klopp saw what he was looking for: a moment when players and fans united in making something magical happen. According to many observers, snatching a draw against a West Bromwich Albion side managed by Tony Pulis in injury time wasn't something worthy of celebration. Anfield is better than that, or at least, it should be. Yet the seeds of Liverpool's victory against Borussia Dortmund were sown that day, and for Klopp, that was the Anfield that he had loved and heard so much about.

"It was a big, emotional moment for us all," Klopp said after the 2-2 draw. "The atmosphere was the best since I've been here. You need moments like this. You need moments like this at home. It's only a point, but everybody will talk about this game for the next five, six days. And that's important, that's what football is for, and so I'm satisfied."

Today we bask in the aftermath of game that everybody will talk about for years. One of Liverpool's greatest comebacks in the club's history happened at Anfield against a side that was unbeaten in 18 games this year. It was an instant classic that propelled Liverpool into the semi-finals of the Europa League where Liverpool will hope to add Villarreal to a list that Augsburg, Manchester United, and now Borussia Dortmund belong to.

Any hope or expectancy within Liverpool's ranks should have evaporated at various times in a game that Thomas Tuchel may always struggle to fully comprehend. Liverpool were down by two goals within ten minutes, needed to score three goals at half-time to progress, and after a third away goal on the night by Marco Reus, the game should have been over. Liverpool 3 Olympiakos 1. Liverpool 4 Newcastle 3. Istanbul. Liverpool 4 Borussia Dortmund 3. We are Liverpool.

Borussia Dortmund fans were so eager show their support for the 96 who lost their lives 27 years ago that they broke a beautifully observed minute's silence a few seconds early to be the first to applaud the memory of the victims. The tributes from both sets of fans, the stirring rendition of a timeless anthem from every corner of the stadium, and the pervasive feeling that something might just happen preceded an opening spell that should have conclusively ended the tie. The German side dismantled Liverpool within ten minutes, and in the aftermath, a mesmerising away section crackled with a awe-inspiring energy.

All seemed lost, but there was more to come from the Anfield faithful. The players, too, joined them in resistance. The rest is history, but it is the kind worth remembering. If Football Gods exist to inflict their whims upon our tender nerves, they would be hard pressed to conjure a story such as this before an important day of reflection and remembrance. With the help of a manager whose footballing ideal is to inflict fire and brimstone upon the opposition, Liverpool fans and players rediscovered that the seemingly impossible can be made possible at Anfield.