Barcelona prayed they would never suffer a greater indignity than last season’s infamous ‘Romantada’.
The nadir was, staggeringly, little more than 12 months away. A stage later and a goal more.
Rock bottom came at a riotous Anfield. Manned by approximately 50,000 fevered Liverpool fans, whose limitless faith was rewarded with the grandest semi-final comeback in Champions League history.
Never mind Saint Etienne in 1977, Olympiakos in 2004, Chelsea a year later or Borussia Dortmund in 2016. This was a Blaugrana for whom the incomparable Lionel Messi had, seemingly, taken the tie away from them in last week’s 3-0 loss at Camp Nou.
A side that had swept up Reds idols Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho at great expense, superstars whose contributions – to varying degrees – helped fuel 2018/19’s romp to the La Liga crown.
Unpropitious odds of overall victory only steepened when injury robbed the Reds of Brazil No9 Roberto Firmino and concussed Egypt No9 Mohamed Salah. Ceaseless Scotland left-back Andrew Robertson would then succumb to a problem at half-time, with the score set at only 1-0 thanks to stand-in Divock Origi’s early rebound and the visitors’ – then – solidity.
Tuesday’s chastening 4-0 humiliation did far more damage than simply end dreams of a ‘treble treble’, or making a fourth Champions League final appearance in a decade bestrewn by success.
The latest abasement, sealed by the speed of right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold’s mind and secured by the sweetness of Origi’s touch, has renewed questions that strike at the heart of this Barca project.
Is head coach Ernesto Valverde’s stoicism a source of fallibility in fixtures when rational thought falls victim to emotion?
February’s one-year contract extension that ties the 55-year-old to Camp Nou until the end of 2020/21 no longer provides certainty.
He was fortunate to survive last season’s wild recriminations after the 3-0 quarter-final surrender at Roma.
Frenkie de Jong might not be the only asset stripped from Ajax. Tactician Erik ten Hag should expect a phone call, too.
5 - Liverpool against Barcelona tonight is the fifth time a team has lost the first leg of a knockout tie but progressed in the Champions League this season - more than in any previous season in the competition. Eclipse. #LIVBAR pic.twitter.com/CUoSPigU50— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 7, 2019
Time may also be called on servants such as Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Jordi Alba whose peerless abilities are ample domestically, but their declining physicality is ravaged by Europe’s finest.
Brazil midfielder Fabinho ran all over them as the Red wave grew in intensity after an even initial period. Left-back Alba produced a stunning assist for Suarez in the first leg, but badly erred for two of the midweek goals.
Is the summer addition of graceful Netherlands midfielder De Jong, 21, enough to stiffen and revitalise an area of the pitch that has gone from their great strength, to a debilitating weakness?
Hosts outran visitors on Merseyside by 112.1 kilometres to 105.4km. They also recovered four more balls (49/45) and made 12 fouls to nine.
If Chile battler Arturo Vidal is meant to represent a much-needed dog of war, a lack of bite from this concussive second half was glaring. His descent from being the game’s premier first-half performer to utterly impotent when half-time substitute Georginio Wijnaldum struck twice in two minutes was emblematic of the issues at hand.
Barca’s XI at kick-off boasted an average age of 29 years and 184 days , with six players over 30. Liverpool’s figures, in contrast, stood at 26 years and 179 days, plus only James Milner was over 30.
When the pace picked up, the weathered Catalans had no answer.
A stifling lack of pace was apparent in a first leg from which the Reds were remarkably unfortunate to lose by multiple goals. The rigours of time on Suarez were accentuated further at the ground from which he ran rampant from 2011-14.
Weekend injury to flying France winger Ousmane Dembele was untimely and the outcome of his absence was enlightening at Anfield. His attributes are unmatched at Camp Nou.
It both centred defensive attention on Messi, granted Liverpool’s full-backs licence to bomb forwards after the break and condensed the pitch. Fellow nine-figure purchase Coutinho was wretched without him, yet again.
Recent Brazilian additions Coutinho and Malcom do not look fit for purpose. The former, in particular, was shamefully bad in both legs.
Roma and Liverpool have prised open cracks in a visage that appeared impregnable.
Has complacency crept into a squad that is unable to match teams imbued with momentum and a sense of destiny?
Who was present to take responsibility after an opening period when Messi, of all people, snatched at several inviting opportunities? A solitary Barca goal, from any source, would have taken this contest away from the Reds.
Messidependencia was meant to have been made myth by February’s 3-0 Copa del Rey semi-final victory at Real Madrid, in which team-mates stepped up on a rare off night.
Liverpool’s collective, united in faith and graced with special ability, trampled the Argentine +10 others in a second half that will live in the annals.
In truth, the failings of Madrid and city rivals Atletico have hidden endemic and systemic problems of their own at Barcelona.
Liverpool are the best team Barca have faced in this campaign. That they came up significantly short merits significant reflection and reaction.
Only four times in Champions League history has a side overturned a first-leg deficit of three goals or more to progress from a knockout tie.
Barca were on the wrong end of one of those spectacular comebacks at Roma last year and tasted another shock defeat at Anfield on Tuesday.
Divock Origi goals either side of a brace from substitute Georginio Wijnaldum sealed Liverpool a memorable 4-0 win, putting them through to the Madrid final 4-3 on aggregate as Barcelona were left reeling.
“It’s happened again,” head coach Valverde said. “It happened last year.
“It’s true that it has been different games, the first leg and second leg.
“They started really well, and they pinned us back. Early goal, we reacted well after that.
“We managed to control things a little bit in the second half of the first half. We had half chances to score.
“I think that we conceded two goals and then they really kind of got on top of us after those two quick concessions.
“We haven’t managed to get on the scoresheet tonight. They scored two in two and they kind of us rolled us over, really.
“They have been really strong, they played really well. We’ve got to congratulate them on the performance they put up in the tie as a whole.
“It is a terrible result for our fans and for ourselves. We didn’t expect a situation like this. This is what has happened to us.
“It is really, really unfortunate but credit is due to Liverpool.”
Valverde says Barca struggled with the Reds’ high press and intensity, while the fourth goal from a quick Trent Alexander-Arnold corner caught them napping.
The head coach apologised to their fans in the post-match press conference and spoke of an understandably downbeat room.
“When you have a battle like tonight, you’re going to go through some really tough few days, like all our fans as well,” Valverde said.
“You’re going to suffer, the fans will suffer as well. That’s what it is like.
“You have to go through this penitence and we’ve not got long to go until the end of the league season.
“We’ve got the cup still to fight for and we’ve got to really finish the season well on a high after this.
“But at the moment we’re blown away, it’s terrible.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Jurgen Klopp’s men trailed 3-0 after a disappointing semi-final first-leg defeat at the Nou Camp, but Mohamed Salah’s ‘Never Give Up’ t-shirt embodied the spirit Liverpool played in.
The Reds got one back through Divock Origi’s opener, but it wasn’t until the second went in – this time courtesy of substitute Georginio Wijnaldum – that fans really began to believe that a comeback was not only possible, but probable.
And just seconds later, Wijnaldum sent Anfield into delirium with another to level the score on aggregate.
“Blimey. What are we witnessing here. All square,” BT Sport presenter Gary Lineker tweeted, while Ian Wright simply posted 22 ‘screaming in fear’ emojis.
Blimey. What are we witnessing here. All square.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) May 7, 2019
Former Liverpool player Luis Garcia posted: “I have seen this move too!!” referring to his own part in the Reds’ comeback against AC Milan in 2005, when they came from three down to win the final on penalties.
Alexander-Arnold, 20 years old. People will tell me it’s bad defending, I’m telling you it’s pure intelligence and vision.— Cesc Fàbregas Soler (@cesc4official) May 7, 2019
With just 12 minutes of normal time remaining, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold displayed cunning to send Origi through from a corner, and the forward duly scored the decisive goal to send Klopp’s team through to their second consecutive Champions League final.
Louis Theroux, who has observed some unusual circumstances while filming documentaries, could not believe his eyes, tweeting: “Whaaaaaat?”
Former Barca midfielder and youth product Cesc Fabregas took to social media to praise Alexander-Arnold’s quick thinking.
“Alexander-Arnold, 20 years old. People will tell me it’s bad defending, I’m telling you it’s pure intelligence and vision,” he wrote.
Jermaine Jenas, meanwhile, heaped praise upon the youngster, tweeting: “Didn’t think I could be anymore impressed by Trent Alexander Arnold such a brilliant young intelligent footballer!” and Peter Crouch simply wrote: “How old is @trentaa98? That was a joke.”
By the time the final whistle came, Anfield could hardly contain its excitement.
“IT’S A MADNESSSSSS!!!!! #YNWA” Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain posted.
Former Reds forward Stan Collymore shared an image of a Barcelona tweet, commenting: “Messi! Cruyff! Pep! Gaudi! Joan Miro! Salvador Dali! Your boys took one hell of a stuffing!!!”
Loris Karius, who played in goal for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid last season, tweeted: “This is Anfield! So happy for club & fans! #YNWA”.
And in typical fashion, Champions League winner and Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher simply tweeted his colleague and Manchester United alumnus Gary Neville with a ‘man shrugging’ emoji.
Provided by Press Association Sport