The Hard Tackle takes an intimate look at five key moments in Liverpool’s run to the UEFA Champions League final.
No English club comes close to Liverpool’s pedigree in European competitions, and this weekend, the Reds could write another chapter in their long and illustrious history at the continent’s top table.
Jurgen Klopp will lead his side out against Real Madrid in Paris, a venue synonymous with the club’s third European Cup win in 1981. Curiously, it will be a repeat of the final that year when an Alan Kennedy goal put Los Blancos to the sword.
Since then, both clubs have won the European Cup/UEFA Champions League several times, also meeting in the 2018 final at Kyiv. Real Madrid got the better of the Reds on that night, and more than revenge will be on the cards for Liverpool this Saturday.
The fact that Liverpool have made it to the Champions League let alone the final following the tumultuous 2020/21 campaign is noteworthy. Moments such as Alisson Becker’s late heroics against West Bromwich Albion and the 4-2 win at Old Trafford stand out. It is fair to say that the journey to Paris began even before the 2020/21 campaign came to an end.
Liverpool’s love affair with the European trophy has given them numerous memorable moments in history. From Philip George Neal’s late penalty against Borussia Monchengladbach in 1977 to Bruce Grobbelaar’s jelly legs in 1984, there have been iconic moments that stayed put in fans’ memories.
The miracle of Istanbul is unforgettable, while the comeback against Barcelona in 2019 is the stuff of legends. Each campaign has had its noteworthy moments, and the current one is no exception.
Klopp and his men have largely blitzed through the showpiece event this season, giving their fans several moments to cherish and remember in the years to come. The Hard Tackle looks at five such moments that have defined Liverpool’s Champions League campaign so far.
Captain fantastic downs AC Milan (Liverpool 3-2 AC Milan, Anfield, Matchday 1)
?"It's nice to get back on the scoresheet it's been a while."
Jordan Henderson reacts to scoring the Liverpool winner in their 3-2 win over AC Milan. pic.twitter.com/pdHDEiu9Ck
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) September 16, 2021
Liverpool’s journey to Paris began at home against legendary Italian side AC Milan. The Reds dominated possession and got off to a flyer thanks to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s early effort. Mohamed Salah missed a penalty, and the Reds’ frontline failed to make the most of several promising chances.
It came to bite them dearly as Milan struck twice within the space of two minutes to go 2-1 up at the break. Salah redeemed himself by drawing the home side level in the second half, but the stage was set for skipper Jordan Henderson to play the hero.
The Englishman has steadily risen to the task after succeeding Steven Gerrard as the Liverpool captain and has had many standout moments in a red jersey. Henderson’s winning strike on the night against Milan handed the Merseysiders the perfect start to their European campaign and gave the club the momentum to push on.
Having been drawn into the group of death that also included eventual Portuguese champions FC Porto and Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, Liverpool needed to get off to a winning start, especially at home. While Henderson’s strike could eventually go on to be just a footnote in history, the impetus it gave to the Reds’ campaign cannot be underestimated.
Divock Origi writes Liverpool’s name into the history books (AC Milan 1-2 Liverpool, San Siro, Matchday 6)
FT: AC Milan 1 – 2 Liverpool
Liverpool responded well to going a goal down from a corner with Salah and Origi on the scoresheet to secure all three points and a record for Jurgen Klopp's men as they become the first English side to win all six games in the group stage ? #LFC pic.twitter.com/73hGFYt1T7
— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) December 7, 2021
Liverpool went into their final group game of the campaign with their place in the Last 16 already assured. With the club competing on all fronts, Klopp played the reserves on the night. What was essentially a dead rubber for the Reds could have been more important than what fans realised.
Goals from Mohamed Salah and Divock Origi helped Liverpool make it six wins out of six in the group stages, making them the first English club in history to manage that feat. Origi has shown a penchant to score some key goals for the club over the years. It is fitting that he was the one who scored the winner on the night to make it a perfect six for Liverpool.
Apart from the record books, the win also gave us the first taste of Liverpool’s squad depth. The match might have meant nothing to the Reds, but Milan were still challenging for a Last 16 spot and played their big guns on the night. The fact that Liverpool’s reserve players held their own and made easy work of their illustrious opponents was a real eye-opener.
They would go on to play a big role in the return legs of the ties against Inter Milan and Benfica in the knockout rounds, affording some of Liverpool’s top players a much-needed rest. These fine margins will have played a huge role in Liverpool going on to win the domestic double while also pushing Manchester City in the Premier League.
If anything, that night at San Siro was the first indicator that Klopp has the depth that he could utilise to compete along all fronts. The fact that Liverpool also made it to the history books with a perfect group stage record was a bonus.
Luis Diaz makes it 3-1 at the Estadio da Luz (Benfica 1-3 Liverpool, Estadio da Luz, quarter-final first leg)
How good of a signing has Luis Díaz been for Liverpool?!
Upon his return to Portugal, where he used to star for Porto, the Colombian forward burns Benfica. It’s a big goal that makes it 3-1 late in the first leg #UCL
— SI Soccer (@si_soccer) April 5, 2022
The Reds were handed a favourable tie in the quarter-finals when they faced off against Benfica. Liverpool raced to a 2-0 lead in the first leg courtesy of goals from Ibrahima Konate and Sadio Mane.
Konate’s error allowed Darwin Nunez to halve the deficit early in the second half. This opened up the game and gave Benfica an opportunity to work their way back into the tie. Liverpool, to their credit, did not sit back and did their best to restore what could be a decisive two-goal cushion ahead of the return leg at Anfield.
The job was done late on thanks to January signing Luis Diaz. The Colombian raced through to round the goalkeeper after Naby Keita had put him through and slotted into an empty net to make the scoreline 3-1 in favour of the visitors.
This gave Klopp enough breathing space and also the freedom to play a weaker side in the second leg. Benfica, to their credit, put up a real fight and played their part in a thrilling 3-3 draw. The Portuguese giants held the initiative in the final half an hour of the tie and could have even stunned Anfield had it not been for Alisson Becker.
Diaz’s strike in the first leg proved pivotal and gave the Reds enough leeway to hold off a late Benfica fightback. Just what could have happened had the margin even just one goal is debatable. In competitions such as the Champions League, the smallest of factors could make a telling difference.
Jordan Henderson’s deflected strike breaches the Yellow Submarine (Liverpool 2-0 Villarreal, Anfield, semi-final first leg)
Liverpool’s semi-final draw against then Europa League champions Villarreal was a potential banana skin for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Unai Emery’s side were minnows on paper but had got to the last four by defeating the likes of Juventus and Bayern Munich.
With the first leg played at Anfield, the onus was on Liverpool to take a healthy lead into the second leg at the Estadio de la Ceramica. The task had proven more than difficult for teams in the knockout stages and presented the Reds with a real challenge.
Klopp’s men laid siege to the Yellow Submarine’s goal but were unable to find a way past a well-drilled defence. A combination of poor finishing and no-nonsense defending enabled the visitors to hold Liverpool to a blank at half-time. The Reds kept pushing, and fortune firmly swung their way when Jordan Henderson’s cross took a huge deflection off Pervis Estupinan to beat Geronimo Rulli in the Villarreal goal.
The strike blew the roof off Anfield and threatened to open the floodgates for the visitors. Sadio Mane made the score 2-0 within a minute, further strengthening Liverpool’s hold on the tie. Despite fashioning numerous other opportunities, the score stayed the same, and Liverpool now had a lead to defend in Spain.
A visit to Villarreal is never an easy tie, especially when a final in the Champions League is at stake. Going into the return leg on level terms might have added more pressure on Klopp’s men. While Henderson got fortunate with his strike at Anfield, it more than settled his side’s nerves and saw them go about their business in a thoroughly professional manner.
Luis Diaz comes off the bench to sink Villarreal in Spain (Villarreal 2-3 Liverpool, Estadio de la Ceramica, semi-final second leg)
Luis Díaz's game by numbers vs. Villarreal:
100% take-ons completed
90% pass accuracy
4 touches in the opp. box
4 take-ons completed (=most)
4 shots (most)
3 x possession won
GAME. CHANGER. pic.twitter.com/q4sNY0FJ4x
— Squawka (@Squawka) May 3, 2022
Liverpool went into the tie knowing they had to hold on to a two-goal lead for just 90 minutes to secure a spot in the showpiece event in Paris. Boulaye Dia put the home side up within the first three minutes to bring back horrible flashbacks of Sevilla’s comeback against the Reds in the 2016 UEFA Europa League final.
The Yellow Submarine truly had the Reds on the ropes and drew themselves level when Francis Coquelin headed in their second goal in the 41st minute. Going into half-time, Villarreal firmly held the initiative and had the momentum in front of an adoring home crowd.
Klopp decided to bring on Luis Diaz at half-time, and it proved to be a pivotal decision as the Colombian single-handedly turned the tie on its head.
Liverpool were much more direct with Diaz in attack and got into good positions. Villarreal were visibly tiring after matching their opponents blow for blow in the first half, and the fatigue began to set in. Add to it a pacy South American attacker, and the writing was on the wall.
Fabinho pulled one back for Liverpool before Diaz levelled the score. Sadio Mane put the result beyond any doubt to ensure Liverpool would be on the flight to Paris. But it was Diaz who made the difference off the bench. The Colombian’s signing in January has proven to be an inspired decision and should the Reds prevail in the final, he will have played his part in getting them there.