Jurgen Klopp, brought in just two months prior, had the unenviable task of not just rebuilding a horribly unbalanced (and not talented enough) squad, but also in restoring belief to the Anfield faithful. After coming so close in 2013/14—fuelled largely by Luis Suarez’s brilliance, Daniel Sturridge’s best season of his career, a late career resurgence of Steven Gerrard, and an squad alchemy that could not be replicated—the club had fallen into a malaise.
Over the last year of Brendan Rodgers’ reign, no lead was safe, and any deficit seemed insurmountable. This feeling among the fans—and the players themselves—persisted into the first months of Klopp’s tenure. He saw it first hand, just one month prior, when fans started leaving after Crystal Palace took a late 2-1 lead at Anfield, and the manager had harsh words for the Kopites in response.
For years, Liverpool separated themselves from the rest because of a special sense of magic. A sense that anything was possible. This was the team of Olympiacos and Istanbul. Of St. Etienne. Of winning against the odds in penalty shootouts.
That sense of magic, the sense that Liverpool could overcome any odds, was gone.
Klopp needed to bring it back, and he needed help from his players.
Again, like Crystal Palace just weeks before, Liverpool went behind late. Like before, the scoreline was 2-1 to the visitors. This time, heeding Klopp’s words, the crowd stayed. The crowd forced themselves, against their better judgement and shared recent history, to believe. Or at least pretend to believe. Fake it until you make it, right?
And in the 96th minute, Divock Origi launched a shot from well outside the box. The shot took a wicked deflection, wrong-footing the keeper, and ended up in the back of the net. Even the Kop was shocked that they had once again sucked a ball into the back of the net.
With a 2-2 equalizer, deep into stoppage time, Klopp had his moment. He forced his players to line up and applaud the Kop. Of course, it was widely mocked by the British media. This kooky German, celebrating a late home equalizer against a team fighting against relegation as if he had won a cup final? What a clown. What a joke.
But Kloppo knew.
He knew what this moment meant for his project. It was just one small step, but soon the Anfield faithful would start to really believe in the power of their fortress.
European Nights at Anfield.
Younger Liverpool fans had heard about such nights, spoken in hushed tones, in full reverence. After Rafa Benitez left, no subsequent manager had been able to recreate the same atmosphere. And certainly not the same results. Brendan Rodgers never seemed particularly interested in European football, some of the worst European performances in the club’s history came under his stewardship.
Klopp turned it all around, and in short order.
Under Rodgers, Liverpool had been floundering in the Group Stages. Of the Europa League. Struggling against such giants as Sion, Ruban Kazan, and Bordeaux. Liverpool ended up topping the group, surviving a tight contest against Augsburg, and then seeing off Manchester United in the first European clash between the two great English sides. After a solid 1-1 away performance in Dortmund in the quarterfinal, the stage was set for a great night.
No one knew just how great it would be.
Dortmund came out of the gates swinging, putting the home side down 2-0 within the first 10 minutes. Klopp’s Reds would need 3 to advance. When the scoreline remained 2-0 at the half, it seemed a bridge too far. Origi, once again, popped up, pulling one back shortly after break. But that too was quickly undone by yet another Dortmund goal. Liverpool would need four.
Then Philippe Coutinho scored. Then Mamadou Sakho scored.
And with time winding down, James Milner picked out Dejan Lovren at the back post to nod home.
It was pandemonium. It was magical. It was a European Night for a new generation. It was the Kop, once again, sucking the ball into the back of the net, just like the golden years gone by.
It was the start of something special, again, this time under Klopp.
In the semifinal, Villarreal took a 1-goal lead to Anfield. They had no chance. The Reds ran out deserving 3-0 winners on the night, and the visitors looked shell shocked. It is a look from opponents that Liverpool supporters have gotten to know well.
Last night is hard to put into words. Everything seemed to be against us. The ref in both legs was terrible. We couldn’t manage an away goal. Two of our three best goal scorers were injured.
And yet, despite that, there was still a belief that if we scored a goal or two, we could make a game of it. Like the lingering doubts from Rodgers’ time, there was a sense of belief again. And a knowledge that crazy, magical things happen at Anfield.
We remember the comeback against Dortmund (and countless others in recent seasons under Klopp). We remember the fantastic, breathtaking performances from the last two runs to European finals under Klopp. We remember his record—one that still has yet to taste a home European defeat or elimination in a knockout round with Liverpool. We remember all of this, and knew there was always a chance.
This was a great Barcelona side, with the World’s Best Player. And yet they were no match Anfield, especially in the second half.
And they were no match because of what Klopp built—or rather rebuilt—on Merseyside. Anfield, once again, is a fortress, and doubly so in Europe. We’re now seeing off the likes of Paris St-Germain, Manchester City, Porto (twice!), Napoli, Bayern Munich, Roma, and now the mighty Catalan Giants.
Klopp was right to point out that Liverpool are now back among Europe’s elite. And we’re there because of the enormous advantage he helped us rediscover in our own backyard.