The stage wasn’t set for a comeback. The powers seemed to conspire against Liverpool, who had to score four goals against Barcelona without Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. It was hardly a recipe for success.
But they did it anyway. Liverpool invoked their inner Istanbul to pull off an improbable 4-3 win on aggregate in the Champions League semifinals. Down 3-0 after the first leg, the Reds scored four unanswered goals at Anfield to send supporters into delirium.
Strange things had to happen for the Merseyside outfit to achieve history. Here are the most surprising elements of Tuesday’s unexpected turnaround:
Fresh legs count for nothing
With the La Liga title already wrapped up, Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde had the rare luxury of resting his best players on the weekend. Most of Tuesday’s starters sat out the 2-0 defeat to Celta Vigo, but it did no good. They didn’t have the energy to meet Liverpool’s challenge.
Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho – the two ex-Liverpool players in Barcelona’s lineup – were feckless in their return to Anfield. It was as if the occasion was too big for them. The crowd promptly told Suarez to “f— off” every time he touched the ball or flopped on the ground, and it seemed to work.
Barcelona also knew how delicate their lead was. Having squandered a three-goal advantage in last season’s Champions League quarterfinals, the Blaugrana spoke cautiously about their chances of progressing this time around. But they lost it again. Physically and psychologically, Barcelona simply weren’t ready.
Injuries don’t matter
With Firmino and Salah on the sidelines, Liverpool entered the second leg as the underdog. It was a role they clearly relished.
“As long as we have 11 players out on that pitch, we’ll give it a go,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said before the match.
The effort required heavy lifting from everyone on the pitch. From back to front, Liverpool played to their potential. Alisson made five saves – all of which were pivotal – and center-backs Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip limited Barcelona’s opportunities. Fabinho marked Lionel Messi out of the game and the full-backs completely ran the flanks.
But the biggest difference may have been the venue itself. Football’s greatest intangible played its part.
“No chance this is the result in an empty stadium,” Klopp said.
Origi the unlikely hero
Liverpool’s most unsuspecting assassin struck again. Divock Origi found himself in the thick of a title race last weekend, scoring the winning goal against Newcastle to keep Liverpool’s hopes alive, and then took a dagger to Barcelona in one of the most ridiculous comebacks in Champions League history. His two goals on Tuesday bookended Liverpool’s win.
Prior to his heroics, Origi had made just five starts across all competitions. He was even further away from the spotlight a year ago, playing for Wolfsburg in a rough-and-tumble relegation playoff. Only a mad man would’ve bet on Origi to be a protagonist at the business end of the season, and yet here we are.
Alba’s night from hell
That was quite possibly the worst game of Jordi Alba’s accomplished career. He was culpable on Liverpool’s first two goals, giving the hosts the momentum they needed. Alba’s misplaced header allowed Liverpool to take an early lead and his sloppiness in possession allowed Trent Alexander-Arnold to set up the second goal of the game.
It’s rare to see an elite player capitulate like this. Alba has had one of the finest seasons of his career, becoming, along with Messi, an indispensable part of this Barcelona team. He looked anything but on the pitch, committing high-profile errors that cost his team a chance at another treble.