In his weekly Liverpool blog, Dave Tindall discusses Jurgen Klopp’s Europa League quarter-final reunion with Borussia Dortmund, the stress-free success against Manchester United and who the real heroes were over the two legs.
And with what appeared the minimum of fuss in this snakes and ladders season, Liverpool FC sure-footedly climbed a few more rungs towards a mountain top that had looked well out of reach when they held firm for a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Thursday.
It’s still asking an awful lot – especially after the draw for the last eight (more on that later!) – but with Manchester United dispatched 3-1 on aggregate, the prospect of lifting the Europa League trophy and securing a spot in next year’s Champions League remains alive.
It all seemed surprisingly straightforward against United.
In 2007, I was a nervous wreck when the draw threw up the prospect of a Liverpool v Man Utd Champions League final. The thought of losing to ‘them’ in the showpiece game would have doubled, trebled, quadrupled the agony of defeat. So much so that a very stupid part of me wanted us to lose the two-legged semi to Chelsea to eliminate that possible nightmare scenario.
Thankfully, the night after we’d beaten Chelsea on penalties, Milan turned United over 3-0 in the San Siro and this awful prospect never materialised.
Of course, the stakes were much lower for a last 16 clash in Europe’s second-tier competition but this was still Liverpool v Man Utd and a big test for the old ticker.
United lacking attacking quality
In reality, it wasn’t a test at all. When I walked out of Anfield last Thursday, one of the over-riding feelings was how little stress I’d felt. We’d scored the all-important nerve-settling first goal after just 20 minutes and, after dominating the match, added a vital second on 73 just before the feelings of ‘we need another one here’ really started to kick in.
United’s lack of attacking threat meant I hadn’t been put through the emotional ringer on any sort of scale.
And although I wobbled briefly when Anthony Martial netted from the spot at Old Trafford, a bit of magic from Philippe Coutinho on the stroke of half-time meant the anxiety bubble popped instantly. We had the away goal; they weren’t coming back from that.
180 minutes of football and I was ‘bricking it’ for just 13 of them – the gap between Martial’s spot-kick and Coutinho’s equaliser.
Thanks lads. Could you always make it like this!
Something very noticeable that emerged over the two legs was the performances of players many Liverpool fans had written off.
If this match had been discussed some time ago, it would have seemed imperative that Daniel Sturridge and skipper Jordan Henderson were at their best to give us a chance.
In the end, that pair were marginal figures but it just didn’t matter.
Instead the real heroes were Mamadou Sakho (colossal at Old Trafford), his vastly improved centre-back partner Dejan Lovren and holding midfielder Emre Can, who had been made to look something of a laughing stock when played out of position by Brendan Rodgers.
There have been several doubts cast over Can while Sakho and Lovren have often been written off as ‘damaged goods’. On the evidence of the two ties against Manchester United, this spine-strengthening trio could emerge as key figures in a Liverpool renaissance.
Sakho and Lovren are both 26, Can just 22. To my slight surprise, Coutinho is still only 23 and fellow Brazilian Roberto Firmino 24. Add in the fast-improving Divock Origi, a mere pup at just 20, and the future looks bright.
It seems somewhat less clear for Henderson and Sturridge though.