Goals from Salah and Firmino ensured the Reds’ passage into the semi-finals after a shaky first half at the Etihad Stadium
On a night for heroes, they came dressed in Red.
It looked for a while like it could be a night of pain and suffering for Liverpool supporters. Boy, were they put through the wringer. The Etihad must have felt like a torture chamber at times as the Manchester City ‘thunderstorm’ swept over Jurgen Klopp’s men.
But, when there’s an Egyptian King stood there, arms outstretched in front of the away end, the fear and the panic and the chewed fingernails don’t seem all that bad.
Yes, Liverpool are into the Champions League semi-finals for the first time in a decade, their love affair with this competition is well and truly back. And, having survived this, they’ll fear nothing.
Not Real Madrid nor Bayern Munich, should they confirm their spots in Friday’s draw as expected, and certainly not Roma, who provided the real shock of the night in beating Barcelona . Mo Salah’s night will have been made complete by the incredible news out of Italy. Is a reunion with his former club on the cards, perhaps?
Once more, it was Salah who provided the decisive moment at a time when Liverpool needed him most. They had been stretched to breaking point during a first half in which City had thrown everything their way. They lived on their nerves, played poorly generally, and were indebted to the officials – and the woodwork – on at least one occasion. It was petrifying to watch at times. But City, who were brilliant in the first 45 minutes, had only Gabriel Jesus’ second-minute goal to show for their dominance.
And here’s the rub, the bulk of the work in this tie was done in the first leg. Liverpool’s 3-0 advantage meant that an away goal here would change the world. And, 11 minutes into the second half, Salah provided it. His 39th of the season was the sweetest of all . It was like taking a pin to a balloon. Game over, tie over. Party time in the away end. Allez, Allez, Allez!
Roberto Firmino rubbed salt into City wounds 13 minutes from time with a finish of unerring quality. Win the tie? Pep Guardiola’s side didn’t even win on the night. They had a go, but by the time the final whistle came, it felt like an act of mercy. The manager finished the game in the stands, sent off at half-time for protesting at referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz . In the end, all the home fans had was their anger. And their plastic flags. They were streaming out long before the end.
As for Jurgen Klopp, he could reflect on a performance of heart, character and, when it mattered, composure too. They may have been timid to begin with, but they puffed their chests out after the break. There were big performances all over.
Dejan Lovren, in particular, was immense, a tower of strength at a time when his side needed exactly that. Alongside him, Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold recovered from difficult starts, while Gini Wijnaldum, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can be proud of themselves. City asked question after question – their first-half performance was a masterclass – but by the end their will had gone. Liverpool broke them.
It is either a brave or a foolish man who writes off Liverpool in Europe. OK, it can seem cliched at times, and fans of rival clubs rarely appreciate the sentiment, but the sight of the cup with big ears really does bring out the best in this club. Call them premature, call them naïve, call them what you want, but Reds fans will be checking out Kiev flights and hotels after this. Who could blame them?
Klopp had described City as “the best team in the world” ahead of this game, but Liverpool have now beaten them three times this season, and deservedly so. Do you think they’re worried about anyone else? Do you think Robert Lewandowski or Edin Dzeko scares them? Do you think Anfield will bow down to Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale? No chance!
“European Royalty”, read the flag in the away end, and they’re ready to take their seat at the top table again. This was some night, some performance, some result.