Liverpool 4 Dortmund 3 - The Roundtable
Only Liverpool. Only Anfield.
Usually when supporters make this sort of claim about their club it's wishful thinking. Understandable, maybe, since every football fan wants to believe there's something special about their club. But when we say it about Liverpool you can hear the echo across the world. Cock an ear and you can hear it now. In Spain, in Italy, in France, in Latin America, in Asia...in Germany. "Only Liverpool. Only Anfield".
That was a special night and it was turned into History and Folklore the very moment it was over, so much so that Past, Present and Future all seemed to be wrapped up in each other as the players and coaching staff converged on the pitch at the end to immerse themselves in the full delirium. For a few immense minutes Anfield disappeared over the event horizon and you had to keep reminding yourself that the game was over and we had won and that Dortmund would not be coming back.
I loved Tuchel's befuddled interview at the end. There was no logic or rationale behind what happened, he said, and no reasonable explanation for the strange turn of events. Everything was going according to a logical plan and then....something unplanned happened. It was almost comically 'German' in its bewilderment and it needed another German, in the shape of the Liverpool manager, to shed some light. "Something happened in the stadium", said Jurgen, "You could feel it, you could see it and you could smell it". Over the next 24 hours time and again he credited 'Anfield' as the "thing" - that never-say-die inner belief that comes sweeping off the old terraces here and which is the child not just of sentiment but experience. We know it can be done because it has been done - again and again.
In the aftermath people mentioned St Etienne and Roma, Inter, Chelsea and Olympiakos - famous games where we'd defied the odds to emerge victorious. And of course they mentioned Istanbul (as, apparently, did Klopp himself at half time). Oddly enough no one seemed to mention the closest parallel of all (since it was in a UEFA Cup Final here in '76). But many RAWKites will remember the Reds being rather outclassed by a fine FC Bruges side led by the brilliant forward Lambert and falling 0-2 behind before the Kop helped suck in 3 Liverpool goals in 5 minutes to send us on our way to UEFA Cup trophy #2. Who'll bet against us now going on to #4 after this similar ride?
And, boy, what a great tournament this has become and what a valuable trophy it really is. It's no exaggeration to say that the most passionate and most meaningful European clash of the week was at Anfield, just as it had been a few backs against Manchester United. Is this the year that the Champions League takes a back seat to the Europa? It's hard to be objective, of course, but I think it is.
We were being outclassed weren't we? Just as with Bruges 40 years ago, Dortmund looked too slick and too clinical. Two mistakes by our two Brazilians high up the field were instantly and terrifyingly punished. Their revitalised midfield appeared to be chock full of jet-heeled players - Reus most obviously, but Castro and Weigl too - who were able to cruise with the ball into whatever narrow gaps we left and send crisp and penetrating passes to the outrageously gifted pair of Mkhitaryan and Aubemeyang. For 15 minutes we simply couldn't get a grip - our defence forced in to a series of horrible first-team clearances that simply found another yellow shirt ready to institute the next mass attack. Meanwhile our expressive talents had no wriggle room at all. Firmino looked off the pace, Coutinho was mobbed every time he got the ball and Lallana, for all his running, simply found cul de sacs.
But then, credit to the boys, they did begin to get a foothold of sorts. A Lallana swivel set up Origi who was denied by an excellent tackle in the 16th minute, while the same two players combined to present Alberto Moreno with a decent chance at the far post. Then in the 20th minute Lallana, of all people, lost his sextant and failed to locate his standing foot with the goal gaping. But a little belief had been injected into the Reds and from then on the contest was about trading blows and Dortmund knew they had a game. They continued to be the more incisive but with Coutinho getting more of the ball and the excellent Moreno hitting clever infield balls and opening up the left wing we started to look worthy opponents, as we had in the first leg.
I'll leave someone else to describe the second half. Maybe prose isn't the right vehicle and we should wait for an epic poem to be written instead. It was just unreal, although at 3-3 it was also inevitable, as Tuchel later admitted. In the last chaotic five minutes, played to a frenzied Anfield symphony, it was almost certain that something had to give, some pillar had to come crashing down. Our players sensed it, Moreno acting - twice - as ball-boy at opposite ends of the pitch to save precious seconds; Joe Allen scampering first right, then left, then right again, in search of a place to stick his sword.
And then a moment of sublime cool. Milner had to hoist that free kick into the penalty box you thought. But, no, Sturridge had a better idea. Rather than facing an easy ball into the box from way out Sturridge's courage - and Milner's desire to turn the free kick into a One-Two - meant the Dortmund defence was suddenly facing something more awkward. The fact that Sturridge messed up before recovering to produce an unexpectedly quick pass into Milner's path simply added an extra twist to the drama. A brilliant goal to finish a brilliant match.
A match full of passion, and empty of histrionics - no cheating (well almost no cheating), no diving, no time wasting, no feigning injury, no inflicting injury. Such spirit from both teams. Such respect for the game.
A word on the skipper for the night. Yes, his corners were bad. But James Milner edged out Lovren and Emre Can for Man of the Match for me. Forget the corners and look at the quality if his crossing from open play. A lung-busting run on the right and a perfect low cross might have been converted in the first half. Then of course at the end he lengthened his stride beautifully to collect Sturridge's clever pass and float a "just fucking hit me" cross onto the head of the big Croat. And how far did Milner run (and run with purpose)? It must have been a half marathon as he went in search of space to receive the ball and support colleagues in distress. He was always there and always ready to take responsibility.
So another legendary night for Anfield, and across the football world homage was duly paid. In the German press it was admitted that not even Dortmund's stadium has ever come close to matching the "intensity" of Anfield on Thursday. Maybe the reason is obvious. As admirable as the Dortmund following is in many ways, it is not 'in the moment'. Others on this site, and the Anfield Wrap, have alluded to this, the oddly regimented nature of their travelling support. Football atmospheres are about dialogue, not monologue. The crowd feeds off the team which feeds of the crowd. That is why, when it works properly, the fans are called the '12th Man'. They are actually playing the game. But you can't play the game if you're facing the wrong way, as Dortmund's cheerleaders do, and treating atmosphere like it's a mechanical ritual or a piece of orchestration in search of a game. You can't be part of the game as a fan if you can't see what's happening on the pitch because some massive flag keeps blowing across your line of vision. You can't be a proper fan - or even a proper man - if you're been told what to do by a bloke with a drum and a loudhailer. And I wonder how much genuine inspiration players take from the constant drumming and chanting that bears no relation to anything they are doing on the pitch?
Of course that sort of support will never catch on at Anfield. It's a bit 'North Korean' for us, a bit too much like totalitarian kitsch. But wouldn't it be a marvellous thing if we could bottle the brew we manufactured on Thursday night and take a healthy swig before every home game? Klopp and the boys deserve no less.
In the meantime Europe's watching us again. Come on You Mighty Reds.