Kop, Klopp on top: Dileep Premachandran column
No matter how the rest of Jurgen Klopp's tenure as Liverpool manager goes, he’ll always have Thursday's Champions League 4-3 quarter-final win over Borussia Dortmund to look back on, writes Dileep Premachandran
No matter how the rest of Jurgen Klopp's tenure as Liverpool coach goes, he will always have this night to look back on. Anfield first experienced a European atmosphere like this more than 50 years ago, a 3-1 victory against mighty Internazionale of Milan, and this unforgettable triumph against Borussia Dortmund is destined to be part of a kaleidoscope that includes matches against St Etienne, Olympiakos and Chelsea.
Boss & his man: Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp (right) with England striker Daniel Sturridge. Pic/AFP
Spiegel Online certainly seemed to think the venue had a part to play in Liverpool coming from 2-0 and then 3-1 down to win 4-3. "The legendary stadium on Anfield Road doesn't count among the most hallowed places of the football faith community without reason," it said. "On this memorable night, everybody sensed what a mighty spell could arise here."
For those old-timers on the Kop, especially those the wrong side of 50, the parallels with St Etienne were many. It was Bob Paisley's first European Cup campaign as manager, and the elegant French side — losing finalists to Bayern Munich in 1976 – held a 1-0 lead when they came to Anfield in March 1977 for the second leg of the quarter-final.
Kevin Keegan's speculative cross had given Liverpool parity in the first half, but when Dominique Bathenay struck with a magnificent left-footer from 30 yards in the 51st minute, Liverpool knew that they faced an Everest-like climb against a team that had won four league-and-cup doubles in France in the previous nine seasons.
Ray Kennedy swept home seven minutes later after John Toshack — the giant Welshman, who dovetailed so beautifully with Keegan — had cushioned the ball down with his thigh. As things stood, St Etienne would go through on the away-goals rule.
In the 72nd minute, Paisley took Toshack off, and introduced the 20-year-old David Fairclough. It took the man, who would forever be known as Supersub, 12 minutes to make his mark. Kennedy, on the left side of midfield, flicked a pass over the back line for Fairclough to chase. He outpaced two defenders, took the ball into the box, and slid it past the 'keeper. The roar from the Kop could be heard miles away.
Liverpool went on to beat Borussia Mönchengladbach in the final, and Paisley would retire in 1983 with three European Cups to his name, the first manager to accomplish such a feat. When Rafael Benitez arrived in Liverpool in the summer of 2004, it had been exactly 20 years since the club last won the European Cup. And when Olympiakos came to Anfield in December, the task in front of Liverpool was clear-cut — they had to win by a margin of two goals to progress out of the group stage.
It seemed to be Mission Impossible when Rivaldo sneaked a free kick through the wall in the first half, but Florent Sinama Pongolle equalised early in the second half, after Benitez had sent him on in place of Djimi Traore, a defender. As the minutes ticked down and the crowd grew restive, the Greek defence remained resolute. In the 78th minute, Milan Baros, the Czech striker who had enjoyed such a fruitful Euro 2004, was withdrawn in favour of Neil Mellor. Two minutes later, he bundled one in from inside the six-yard box.
With four minutes left, Jamie Carragher crossed from the left. Mellor nodded down, and Steven Gerrard lashed in from five yards outside the box. "You beauty!" screamed Andy Gray, a former Everton star, on commentary. 'What a hit, son, what a hit!"
Five months later, Liverpool would have the Miracle of Istanbul, the comeback to eclipse all others, against Carlo Ancelotti's AC Milan. On Thursday night, against a Dortmund team that hadn't lost in 2016, Klopp waited till the 62nd minute before taking off Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana, and bringing on Daniel Sturridge and Joe Allen. Allen gave them more control in midfield, and Sturridge proved one more distraction for a defence that struggled with the pace and power of Divock Origi.
Philippe Coutinho's daisy-cutter four minutes later made it 2-3, and it was two defenders who have endured plenty of criticism over the last couple of seasons — Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren — that then got Liverpool over the line in the most frenetic of finishes. "It was strange, like we stopped trusting ourselves," said Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel. "We no longer dared to attack, we were concentrating on defending, and every supporter in the ground seemed to know there would be a lucky punch right at the end. It was as if it was meant to be."
German tabloid Bild went a step further. "Football was invented for nights like these," it said. "With the last kick of the game, Liverpool wrestled down Dortmund in a wonderful thriller. There may never be another match like this." Klopp, after his Paisley-Benitez moment, will hope that's not true.
Dileep Premachandran is Wisden India's editor-in-chief