If one image summed up Barcelona’s torment on Tuesday night, it was of Lionel Messi urging his side to stay calm amidst the violence around them. Liverpool were 3-0, the deficit wiped out in a fashion reminiscent of that glorious night in Istanbul in 2005. Soon, they scored again, arguably the most historic goal in the most historic English ground of all and there was nothing the greatest player of this generation could do but agonise. How could Barcelona, winners of four European crowns in the last 13 years, let this slip? Many will point to Liverpool’s sheer desire, their wherewithal and doggedness to summon their very best football in adversity, which manifested in an excellent display of hard-pressing football.
But something else was also at play, an inexplicable, intangible force — the atmosphere of Liverpool’s den, the Anfield stadium, that has shaken several local and European powerhouses in the past. The venue’s notorious high-decibel section, the Kop End, was at its loudest. Liverpool’s German coach Jurgen Klopp has a name of his team’s frantic style of football — “heavy metal”. It wasn’t to Barcelona’s taste, a team that is accustomed to a more classical approach. The Barca players, who have won everything that football can offer, may have felt trapped in an inescapable crucible.
A passionate crowd, however, can only do so much. The players have to deliver, which they did. If Liverpool were chastened for profligacy in the first leg, the players ensured they were upright clinical this time. It was a brutal reminder of a power-shift — a diminishing, ageing Barcelona, dependent on Messi, and a resurgent Liverpool, with grand designs and grander ambitions. While it could be the beginning of the end for Barcelona, it could be the preface of a golden era that awaits Liverpool. Messi may have felt it the most, as he walked alone to the tunnel as Liverpool’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, scythed the sky.