Liverpool players pushing their bodies to the limits as Premier League title bid reaches conclusion

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Andrew Robertson.

Liverpool‘s squad are pushing themselves to their physical limits as their Premier League title bid reaches its conclusion.

Captain Jordan Henderson required a half-time pain-killing injection to make it through the 90 minutes of their famous 4-0 Champions League win over Barcelona, and while left-back Andy Robertson was forced off at the interval he too has already returned to training.

“The famous three words of this week in the dressing room is ‘It’s only pain’. Very important for all the young lads to learn,” said manager Jurgen Klopp ahead of what could be a historic weekend if results go their way.

“Hendo said ‘It’s only pain’, Robbo said ‘It’s only pain’ but it was real pain. Wow! Robbo could deal with the pain but he could not activate the muscle.

“They should be fine.”

Premier League top scorer Mohamed Salah is also set to return for Sunday’s match at home to Wolves after recovering from concussion sustained at Newcastle last weekend, although fellow forward Roberto Firmino is targeting the Champions League final on June 1 for his return from a groin problem.

Klopp added: “Mo looked good around the celebrations, and yesterday and the day before he was running outside. Today he will join in training. Bobby? Not for the weekend. But we have enough time (for the final).”

Liverpool have to win on Sunday and hope Brighton take points off Manchester City if they are to pip Pep Guardiola’s side to the title, thereby ending a wait stretching back to 1990.

It is likely to be the last time Anfield sees Daniel Sturridge and Alberto Moreno, who are out of contract next month.

Daniel Sturridge

“I don’t know, we will see. Both are out of contract? It’s possible, but we will see,” said Klopp.

“Nothing to say on that, now is not the time for these things. The only important thing is that the players know and we know. Not the rest of the world.”

That the issue of those, albeit fringe, players’ futures has barely registered in the final months of the season is due down to the brilliant season Liverpool are having on the pitch.

Having secured back-to-back Champions League final appearances they have pushed City all the way in the title race.

Even if they do not succeed on Sunday a win will probably see them finish second with the third-highest points tally in Premier League history, beaten only by City’s century last season and 98 in this campaign if, as expected, they overcome Brighton.

Jurgen Klopp masterminded a stunning Liverpool comeback.

Jurgen Klopp masterminded a stunning Liverpool comeback.

But having witnessed the remarkable comeback against Barcelona, having trailed 3-0 from the first leg, Klopp is still holding out for one more magic moment.

“It was a week of miracles, of big football moments, and from our point of view if there could be a big football moment on the weekend, that would be nice,” he said.

“The week is not over yet. Sunday still counts, so we still go for it. Nothing changed, we knew it before.

“I think most people expected me to sit here today and say ‘OK, after not being in the CL final, it’s difficult to be champions’. Well now we are in the CL final, and it is still difficult.

“But the only thing we can do is win the game. In this situation, it looks like Wolves and Brighton are only there, that City will win and we will win.”

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Liverpool's victory is a triumph of the collective over the individual, even when that one is Lionel Messi

Alex Rea 8/05/2019
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Liverpool players celebrate in front of the Kop

Anfield witnessed the power of collective humanity.

Every component brought football’s GOAT back to his first form.

One individual, no matter how otherworldly his talent, is not enough when faced with the throbbing collaborative force of one team.

And team is the operative word because for Liverpool that comprised of 50,000-plus supporters who rained lung particles on the Anfield pitch, the 14 players who left every sinew of muscle fibre there, too, and a manager with the psychological skill to forge these physical features.

There was a wildness to it all.

The extraction of emotional elements from different areas disbursed onto the pitch, powered each individual to produce an utterly compelling collective, while simultaneously siphoning belief from their opponents.

Mentality won this tie and its watermarks are everywhere to prove it. Analyse the performance of the Liverpool players and there are personal displays which rank among their very best for the club.

Hand out the same examination for Barcelona, and the opposite is true.

Start from the back and there is Alisson, who made five stops of varying difficulty against one of the finest attacking contingents Europe has to offer.

Alisson saves from Alba

Alisson saves from Alba

There was only one moment when the crowd groaned as Andy Robertson was forced off at half-time through injury, that reaction weighted by another exemplary performance.

In the middle, Joel Matip produced a goal-saving interception when Jordi Alba maddeningly pulled back to Lionel Messi. He recovered possession, tackled well and bravely pressed out of defence with and without the ball.

The Cameroonian deserves respect, a feeling which directed at his centre-back partner Virgil van Dijk is the only thing bigger than him.

Again, the Dutchman was ice-cold amid the cauldron of red heat, barking his orders to organise tired troops late in the night.

And what about Trent Alexander-Arnold. His piece of genius – a corner so quick in thought but applied through measured ability – will long be remembered, yet it cannot blanket his entire performance.

The 20-year-old was a playmaker at right-back. Champions League opposition – think Manchester City last season – have mistaken him for a weak link to attack when in fact, he’s the one breaking defences apart.

He has grown up in this competition, scored his first senior goal for the club in 2017/18’s play-off and come of age in it.

Wijnaldum, Alexander-Arnold and Henderson

Wijnaldum, Alexander-Arnold and Henderson

In midfield, Jordan Henderson was a leader, he battled aggressively and used the ball intelligently while Fabinho led the way in statistical categories.

Indeed, the Brazilian is less Samba beat and more Klopp-metal, amplified by him making Liverpool’s most tackles (four) and receiving their most fouls (three).

James Milner started in the middle, was moved to left-back and then to tears at the end. The 33-year-old is out of contact next month, but there he was again, sacrificing and suffering, the ultimate team man.

Suffer is an emotion tied to the two goalscorers. Divock Origi’s Liverpool career has been tough, but he displayed such mettle to manoeuvre his body with the ball in the air, drag it down and defenders along with him.

The Belgian was direct and awkward, but then precise when required – two shots, two goals.

Origi celebrates with his team-mates

Origi celebrates with his team-mates

Georginio Wijnaldum admitted to feeling anger at being dropped. But when brought on for Robertson, finished twice and ended Barca careers with one absurd passage of trickery.

And finally to Xherdan Shaqiri for a glorious assist, and of course Sadio Mane in stepping up to shoulder the star quality, plus plug the energy vacuum left by Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.

A team of 10/10s, are better than one No10.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

In truth, Messi was excellent, directly involved in all eight of Barca’s opportunities. But the problem was this – his team-mates forced the ball to him and not at goal.

Alba exemplified this when clean through, but he wasn’t alone. Messi made his vow to “deliver this glorious trophy” in his captain’s speech before the season kicked off.

Yet the responsibility wasn’t his alone to fulfill this task. During this tie, it felt like it was.

Liverpool divided and shared the responsibility between the collective – the fans, staff and players.

Barca left it to Messi and for once it wasn’t enough.

Alba, long considered the world’s best full-back, erred for two goals. Marc-Andre ter Stegen is regarded as being one of the top-two goalkeepers, yet should have done better with Wijnaldum’s first.

Sergio Busquets was swallowed up, Gerard Pique spat the ball out of defence and the former Reds, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, wore the colour of their old shirts, one with embarrassment, the other rage.

How can this all be explained? How did Liverpool score four and Barcelona not one?

It’s very simple, as a team, you never walk alone. In Liverpool’s case, they ran, pressed and chased together energised by the Kop and Jurgen Klopp.

In the end, Messi stood alone, as he was throughout the two ties.

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Klopp masterminds one of Liverpool's greatest-ever UCL nights in stunning comeback against Barcelona

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Jurgen Klopp masterminded a stunning Liverpool comeback.

Liverpool pulled off a stunning comeback to rival some of the greatest results in the club’s history as they beat Barcelona 4-0 at home on Tuesday night to overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit and reach the Champions League final.

It’s a second straight final for Jurgen Klopp’s side as their incredible season continues. Divock Origi and Georginio Wijnaldum scored two goals apiece and the Reds dominated against a strangely lacklustre Barcelona.

Here’s a closer look at how Klopp masterminded the incredible turnaround.

KEY STATS

Goals – 4

Shots – 13

Possession – 43%

Passing accuracy – 78%

Chances created – 11

Dribbles – 10

30-SECOND REPORT

With Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino missing through injury, Xherdan Shaqiri and Origi joined Sadio Mane in attack, as Klopp shuffled his pack, making four changes to the XI that lost the first leg.

Liverpool got off to a flier thanks to Origi’s seventh-minute goal, and they got a similarly fast start in the second half, with two goals in two minutes levelling the aggregate score with over half an hour left to play.

More than enough time for Origi to grab the headlines.

TACTICAL TALKING POINT

Klopp sticks to his guns

There was talk that without Salah and Firmino, Liverpool might line up with a front two. Instead, Klopp trusted his 4-3-3 system.

Origi ran himself into the ground trying to replicate Firmino’s energy as leader of Liverpool’s press, and scored twice. Shaqiri struggled in the first half, but produced the assist for Wijnaldum’s second.

Even an injury to Andy Robertson couldn’t knock Klopp off his stride. He simply moved James Milner to left-back and brought on Wijnaldum – who bagged a brace.

VERDICT

Tuesday night at Anfield probably comes right below Istanbul 2005 as the greatest European night in Liverpool’s history. What more could one have asked for from Klopp and his players?

Facing a 3-0 deficit against a side that has arguably the greatest player of all time, with a depleted team, Klopp ensured his side showed the hunger and intensity that they’ve had all season.

When those traits are combined with the ability of this Liverpool side, anything’s possible. Bring on Ajax or Tottenham.

RATING – 10/10

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