By Daniel Moxon – @dmoxon_
A truly special and famous European night at Anfield saw Liverpool overturn a three-goal deficit from the first leg to knock Barcelona out of the competition and book a place in the final of the UEFA Champions League with a 4-3 aggregate win.
Super sub Georginio Wijnaldum and Divock Origi were the heroes on the night with two goals each as the Reds produced a clinical display of passion and ferocity to blow the Catalans away.
Having scored only one in the first half, it looked like the Reds might have fallen short of what was needed to recover from the loss at the Nou Camp, but a second half onslaught saw two early goals from the Dutchman, on for the injured Andrew Robertson, before Trent Alexander-Arnold’s quick thinking allowed Origi to seal the most unlikely of comebacks.
Liverpool began in lightning fashion, eager to stamp their authority on the game and grab an early goal or two to make the visitors sweat. Xherdan Shaqiri had a half-chance inside the box after good work on the left from Mané with one minute on the clock, but his scuffed effort lacked accuracy and conviction.
It would not matter, though, as the home side got the breakthrough on six minutes. Mané pounced on a wayward header to send Jordan Henderson through and, though his effort was saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Origi was on hand to tap home his first ever Champions League goal and send Anfield crowd into dreamland.
But tension soon boiled over on the pitch when Fabinho went in hard on Luis Suárez. Referee Cuneyt Cakir deemed it too strong and cautioned the Brazilian for his reaction when the two players faced off.
The visitors would soon remind the delirious home players that they were in a game as a dangerous counter-attack resulted in Lionel Messi, fresh from scoring his 600th Barcelona goal in the first leg, forcing a decent parry from Alisson with a left-footed effort at the Kop End. Minutes later, he would push away an effort from compatriot and former Red Philippe Coutinho.
Liverpool’s would take a blow on the half hour mark, as Jordan Henderson crumpled to the floor holding his knee after an awkward turn and landing. Georginio Wijnaldum was stripped and ready to replace him, but the damage was less than first feared and the skipper was able to continue.
There was also a scare for Andy Robertson who went down after what looked like a kick out from Suárez. Luckily the left back was also able to continue, but questions remain over why a VAR review wasn’t carried out for an incident that could have seen the Uruguayan sent off.
Alisson would once again prove to be Liverpool’s hero as a Barcelona break looked to see Jordi Alba in on goal on the brink of half time, but the stopper was quick off his line to smother the Spaniard’s effort and send his side into the break still very much in the tie.
Robertson would not be able to continue for the second half and was replaced by Wijnaldum at the break – James Milner would move to left back. Virgil van Dijk almost put the Reds within one from a corner, volleying from point-blank range, but ter Stegen reacted superbly to save.
Wijnaldum’s impact would be immediate – less than 10 minutes on the pitch, he would sweep home from a low Trent Alexander-Arnold cross to really make the game a nervous ones for the Catalans.
They would become even more scared when the Dutchman headed home from Shaqiri’s delivery just a minute later to level the tie and send Anfield into raptures.
Lionel Messi would later be afforded an opportunity to score a free kick from a similar position to the one he netted in the first leg, but his aim was less deadly this time and his effort was blocked by a Liverpool wall which strained every sinew to smother the Argentine’s strike.
Incredibly, Liverpool would take the lead in the tie for the first time when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s quick thinking saw him put the corner in low and hard while Barcelona were napping, and Divock Origi was clinical to fire into the top corner and put one Red foot in the final.
The Belgian would leave the pitch with seven minutes of normal time to go with an injury, but hobbled off to a hero’s reception as Anfield paid tribute to the man who had led the line so admirably on the night. He was replaced by Joe Gomez.
The five minutes of added time were nail-biting and Barcelona produced a few moments which terrified the anxious onlookers, but Jurgen Klopp’s side had done enough and their place in a second-successive Champions League final was secured.
Anfield will host Wolves on Sunday as Liverpool hope for domestic glory, and will travel to Madrid on June 1 to face either Tottenham Hotspur or Ajax at the Wanda Metropolitano.