Liverpool achieved another miracle as they roared into the Champions League final with an astonishing, unforgettable victory over Barcelona.
Divock Origi and substitute Georginio Wijnaldum scored a brace each as the Reds claimed a remarkable success.
Having lost the first leg 3-0, Jurgen Klopp’s side got the perfect start with a goal in the seventh minute.
Jordi Alba’s poor header from a Joel Matip long ball was taken on by Sadio Mane and then Jordan Henderson whose poked finish was pushed out by Marc-Andre ter Stegen. But there was Origi to tap in.
Back came Barca who had a string of chances themselves on the break. Often they tried to walk the ball in and Alisson denied Lionel Messi, Philippe Coutinho, Alba and old boy Luis Suarez.
The second goal in the 54th minute was decisive. Trent Alexander-Arnold crossed from the right and Wijnaldum arrived perfectly to crash his shot past ter Stegen.
Just two minutes later it was a double for the Dutchman as he headed home a Xherdan Shaqiri cross to level the tie on aggregate.
And then came number four in the 79th minute. Alexander-Arnold was clever and cunning at a corner, walking away from the ball before spotting Origi unmarked and whipping in a ball that the frontman swept home.
As they held on, Liverpool became only the third team in the history of the European Cup or Champions League to come from three goals down after the first leg of a semi-final, emulating Panathinaikos in 1970-71 and Barcelona in 1985-86.
REDS BELIEVE IN MIRACLES
A glorious failure was expected at Anfield. Surely they could not come back from three goals down against Lionel Messi and Barcelona, it was said.
They had a four per cent chance of reaching the final, it was said.
And without Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and then losing Andy Robertson at half-time to injury as well, the odds were heavily stacked against them.
But this Liverpool side has summoned a spirit this season that words cannot describe – and defied belief. This was one of those occasions, one that will long be remembered in the club’s revered history.
They were classy, cavalier and courageous.
The performance and result will be up there with the miracle of Istanbul, when they won the Champions League in 2005 after coming back from three goals down at half time.
It could surpass it, given they tamed arguably the game’s greatest player in Lionel Messi. Lifting this trophy for a sixth time will confirm it.
DEADLY DIVOCK DESERVES MORE CHANCES
It seems strange to think Origi has been at Liverpool for five years.
A £10 million signing at 19, a bright future was predicted for the Belgian striker.
It hasn’t quite worked out like that and he has had just 41 starts in all competitions during that time, amid loan moves to former club Lille and Wolfsburg.
But plunged into the frontline in the absence of Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, Origi showed he has perhaps finally come of age.
There is talk about his future being away from Anfield, but maybe that would be a mistake right now.
He is only 24. There is room and time for improvement.
Against Barca, he offered a physical presence that Liverpool have sometimes lacked. Origi offers a different option and dynamism and it seems crazy to think Salah and Firmino were not missed.
Origi was a willing runner, worked well in holding the ball up and was in the right place at the right time for the opening goal and then the fourth. He made the most of this opportunity. He deserves to be given many more in future.
MONSTERS IN MIDFIELD LEAD FIGHTING SPIRIT
After the Nou Camp defeat, questions were asked about the quality of this Liverpool side.
Fingers were pointed at Virgil van Dijk too as he and his defence were left embarrassed by Lionel Messi. But the bearded genius was left forlorn as the Reds and their Dutch commander got their payback and proved they deserve every bit of credit and respect in this fantastic campaign where they are so close to Premier League and European glory.
Van Dijk was a titan, a tower of strength, but he was not alone. To a man, Liverpool were bold and brave.
From defence to attack, they hassled Barca at every opportunity, harried and hurried them into making mistakes few thought they would make.
The pressing from Klopp’s men was unworldly, their passion incredible.
Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and James Milner were monsters in midfield, tackling anything that moved. And unsung heroes like Joel Matip, Gini Wijnaldum and Origi revelled in the spotlight.
There were heroes everywhere.
For a team that went two transfer windows without signing a single player, Tottenham have exceeded expectations by reaching the semi-final of the Champions League.
After defeating the then-Bundesliga toppers Borussia Dortmund in the last-16 and Premier League leaders Manchester City in the quarters, Spurs are now tasked to overcome a 1-0 deficit against Eredivisie leaders Ajax.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men were outplayed in the first leg but are now provided with a boost by the return of Son Heung-min, who was suspended for the opening clash at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
We take a look at some of the tactics Pochettino could turn to in the decider.
ACTIVATE TRUMP CARD SON
Very few would argue against the fact that Son has been Spurs’ best player this season. The South Korean inspired his team to victory in the tie against City with a brace in the second leg, and has the potential to lead them to a comeback against Ajax.
Son’s movements and pace will provide Spurs a huge advantage against Ajax’s high defensive line. His versatility allows the forward to play anywhere in the front-line though it’s likely that he will be start in a nominal central berth with Harry Kane sidelined due to injury.
One pin-point pass from Christian Eriksen against a high Ajax line could set Son through on goal and change the course of the tie in an instant.
SISSOKO TYING UP DE JONG
Most of Ajax’s attacks either originate from or pass through Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong. The youngster has proved to be influential in all the big games this season, slowly displaying why the Spanish giants paid an exorbitant fee for his signature.
De Jong is a crucial element in Erik ten Hag’s system in attack and in defence. By having Moussa Sissoko physically dominate him and prevent him from spreading his wings, Spurs could restrict Ajax’s attacks at source – just like they did when Sissoko was introduced for the injured Jan Vertonghen late in the first half of the opening leg.
By suppressing the 21-year-old, Spurs will be handed an advantage in the midfield battle and hence allowed the freedom of providing extra legs in attack. Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier can advance forward when most opportune and aid Son in attack.
Ajax are 90 minutes away from securing a spot in the Champions League final and entering the climax of what has been an entertaining fairy-tale.
The young Dutch team are carrying a 1-0 lead from London and are favourites to book a summit clash with one of Barcelona or Liverpool.
Erik ten Hag’s tactics have been on point throughout the tournament. Can he pull it off in a crunch European fixture yet again? We take a look at the tactics he could use on Wednesday.
AN ENCORE OF THE FIRST LEG
Ajax have rarely swayed from their core philosophy, mainly because they had never required an elaborate Plan B until now. However, Donny van de Beek’s role has been noticeably different in European knockout games.
The midfielder – who usually plays much deeper – has been allowed an advanced and rather free-roaming role in Champions League fixtures. This has worked very well for the player and the team until now, with the 22-year-old impressing in all the knockout rounds.
Van de Beek sliced open Spurs’ backline in north London last week and his knack of finding pockets of space in the final third posed problems. With Haikim Ziyech and David Neres so dangerous on the wings and Dusan Tadic an equally canny player, confusion often sets in within the opposition’s final third.
MAZRAOUI PROVIDING MORE WIDTH
Spurs will be stretched, threatened with wide over-loads and attacked through quick transitions. They must also guard against the possible restoration of Noussair Mazraoui to the starting line-up, who could provide yet another attacking option down the flanks.
Joel Veltman has done an impressive job in the absence of the first-choice right-back, but the potential return of the Morocco international would provide an extra dimension to their attack.
The 21-year-old is more fluid with his passing and better at dribbling with the ball. A combination of Mazraoui and Ziyech on the right would keep Rose and the recovered Jan Vertonghen busy throughout the evening, potentially prying open bigger holes for Van De Beek and Tadic to exploit in the centre.