The Reds Are Back In Champions League Action
By Michael Scott
11th March 2020, Anfield, Liverpool
Alvaro Morata falls to his knees in front of the travelling Ateltico fans to celebrate his goal in the 121st minute. Last season's winners, and finalists for the past two, were out. Klopp had lost his first two legged European tie since joining the club in 2015. Heartbreak.
The Reds went into the game one nil down, but expectations to go through were still high considering the form of the team and the added element of special European nights at Anfield.
Looking back now, it was a surreal game, amidst surreal circumstances.
We absolutely hammered them in 90 minutes. It could be argued (putting the ball in the net aside) that it was one of our best performances of the season. At least in Europe anyway.
When Firmino scored at the start of extra time to make it 2-0, we all thought it was done. Another great European night, and another CL Quarter Final beckoned. Llorente had other ideas though, and he scored two before the second half to all but see Atletico through.
When Morata scored in the 121st minute, the game was all but done. This just sealed our fate.
Before the game, there was real belief Liverpool could not only go through, but that they could win the whole thing. Back to back winners. Finalists three years on the trot. That was the plan.
Liverpool were flying in the league, and with the Premier League all but wrapped up the consensus was if we beat Atletico we could afford to prioritise the Champions League.
To get knocked out in the way we did was heartbreaking. But in a strange way, it felt like it didn’t really matter.
There was an inevitability that everything was about to grind to a halt.
We were seeing the effect Coronavirus was having much closer to home in Italy and Spain, and we were all well aware the virus was heading our way.
Little did we know just how long restrictions would last.
Just two days after the Liverpool Atletico game, the Premier League was suspended. Liverpool’s next game would come almost three months later, at Goodison park in June. The Atletico game was the last time Anfield had any supporters in.
There’s since been calls to investigate why the game went ahead, when Madrid was already in a partial lock down. There were 3,000 Ateltico fans in Anfield that night.
Watching the highlights back at that game makes for strange viewing.
First off, I’m not sure how we didn’t win and get to the next round. It was a mixture of not being ruthless enough, Oblak having the best game of his life in goal and Adrian having a bit of a mare.
Secondly, seeing that many people together at one event, without social distancing is just surreal now. Natural instinct from the experiences of the past 6+ months just makes it seem not right.
Thirdly, it made me realise just how good this Liverpool side can be, and just how good we have been in the Champions League for the past three seasons. Yes we didn’t go through, but we looked so sharp in the game. Everyone was doing their bit as part of a well oiled Jurgen Klopp machine.
And now it’s back. And Liverpool, reigning Premier League Champions, are back in it too.
It might not be the same, but it’s still the Champions League. When we got knocked out against Atletico I thought to myself, as long as this team stays together, and we play like that, there’s no reason why we can’t win it again next season.
Ajax away is massive. They are one of the biggest teams in Europe. It’s what the Champions League is about. It’s ironic that at the time we can’t travel and attend games we draw the team that is no doubt high up on most Liverpool’s fans' dream awayday.
It will come as a welcome distraction from the Premier League this season. In the past two games we’ve shipped 7 goals to Aston Villa and we were robbed of three points at Goodison. Not to mention a potentially season ending injury to Virgil van Dijk.
With or without Virgil van Dijk, this is a special Liverpool team. Who have special nights in Europe.
Let’s get stuck in, Reds.