How Jurgen Klopp has put Liverpool back where they belong
Wednesday's game against Manchester City was incredible. There are no other words to describe how dispatching what is touted as the best side in Europe feels
Pep Guardiola has worked wonders with Manchester City to turn them into the side they are today, who rock up at whatever ground each week and then over their opponents, with few exceptions. Liverpool are a notable exception.
Twice this season, City have rocked up to Anfield and twice this season they have been dispatched. Whilst the scoreline suggests the league fixture was a much tighter affair, the 4-3 scoreline flattered the visitors.
In truth, Wednesday's Champions League tie started weeks before Wednesday. There was so much buildup to the game and to the bus meeting. Manchester City players and fans alike talked about how the Anfield atmosphere wouldn't affect them, somehow forgetting how it had affected them weeks earlier, when the Reds scored three goals inside ten minutes and the Citizens' collective head fell off.
One of the great things of Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool tenure is how he has changed the atmosphere around Anfield. It's a notable change even over the course of this season. He joined and took over the reigns from Brendan Rodgers, a Liverpool career that started so wonderfully but fell off the rails in a spectacular yet tragic fashion. At the time, a fan base that was so toxic and so divided was immediately united by the arrival of the German manager.
His message was clear from day one: Liverpool were to go from doubters to believers.
That sounds nice, doesn't it? It's a lovely soundbite for a first interview as Liverpool manager. It was more than a soundbite, though. It was a mission statement. Slowly but surely, Klopp has transformed the team that he inherited into the team that dispatched Manchester City on Wednesday evening.
The atmosphere around the stadium and around the club has changed, from pessimistic to one of belief. It would be naive and probably unfair to say it's solely down to the manager but he's played a large part. He's turned around the fortunes of underperforming players, such as Adam Lallana (prior to his misfortune this season) and Roberto Firmino, turning the latter into one of the league's best strikers.
Jordan Henderson saw his role altered, and, although this season he has struggled at times, was one of the best midfielders in the league last season. The form of Mohamed Salah has played an important part, and softened the blow of losing Philippe Coutinho to the point where it's almost completely forgotten about. Sadio Mané's role has been slightly tweaked as a result of Coutinho's departure, and it has resulted in him hitting fine form at the business end of the season.
The addition of Virgil van Dijk has also helped. A back four and goalkeeper that were perhaps sometimes overly criticised, but certainly not without fault, has been radically improved. The goalkeeper, Loris Karius, who didn't seem to know how to use his hands is now winning Liverpool points. van Dijk has added a calmness to the defence, an attitude change that realises its okay to concede, it's not the end of the world. Liverpool collapses such as those at the Etihad or in Sevillla earlier in the season now seem to be in the distant past.
All of these things come together. Over the course of the season Liverpool have played well, very well at times. At the start of the season Anfield can't have been a great place to play football for Liverpool players, the slightest mistake was met by moans and groans. Fast forward a few months and the team looks confident in its ability, the fans are confident in the team and sense of belief is refreshing, and has been weaponised to give the eleven lads on the pitch the greatest motivation and help they could need
It might sound sentimental but that's what happened on Wednesday night. Every single Liverpool fan was united behind the eleven lads on the pitch, cheering them on, supporting them throughout the ninety minutes.
Liverpool Football Club was made for historic European nights. There's the quarter final against Juventus in 2005, there's Chelsea in the semi final in the same season. There is of course the final in Istanbul. More recently, there is the incredible comeback against Dortmund in the Europa League, and there is the 3-0 win over Villarreal.
The win over Manchester City joins famous company, and will hopefully go down in the history books as a part of a successful Champions League campaign. It goes down as a night that Anfield showed its power to Europe, and puts Liverpool just ninety minutes away from the semi finals of the Champions League.
It's so close. You want to say the Reds have one foot in the next round but you know that football is a cruel sport and Manchester City are capable of special things. But you want to be giddy. You want to get carried away. It's what football's all about, after all.
You want to believe.
Up the Reds.