Liverpool players
Liverpool players and fans celebrate after the match. Image Credit: Reuters

Liverpool: Do not adjust your reality. This really is happening. There have been glorious, entirely improbable games in Liverpool’s European history, including the mind-bending highs of Istanbul.

But this was something else, an effort of will that, frankly, took the breath away. On a rapturous night Liverpool’s season of chasing to the end narrowed first to a fine point; then burst into the most extravagant life as a 1-0 half-time lead against Barcelona became two, then three, then four.

Liverpool's Mohammad Salah
Liverpool's Mohammad Salah, left, manager Jurgen Klopp, centre, and Virgil van Dijk celebrate. Image Credit: AP

With 79 minutes gone, the most celebrated team of the modern age had been reduced to a bunch of mooching, stumbling yellow-shirted spectators. A Champions League season that had seemed to be zeroing in on another coronation for Lionel Messi had been wrenched, gleefully, the other way.

It will instead be Liverpool in Madrid on the first day of June for another shot at the ultimate.

There were two moments that captured the essence of victory. One was the final whistle. Full-time celebrations come and go. We’re used to the huddles and high-fives. But this was something else, a moment of collectivism, sucking the sweetness from the moment, that seemed to speak directly to the performance that preceded it.

Also read

It was bedlam. There were seething huddles in the aisles, bodies lifted and hugged and grappled. A well-known television pundit whirled his arms around and yelled at the sky. The bench came running on to the pitch. The manager came running on. The players came on. Look closely and the man who runs Robinsons News around the corner probably came on.

As Jurgen Klopp took Sadio Mane in his arms and spun him like a beloved ballroom partner, there was a moment of singsong communion with the Kop. They love these big fat emotional notes here.

Who wouldn’t? Resist if you like but this is a part of English football, a sustained chord in its upper registers; and the place, in the end, where victory came from.

Liverpool players celebrate
Liverpool players celebrate after winning the UEFA Champions league semi-final second leg match against Barcelona at Anfield in Liverpool. Image Credit: AFP

“When I saw the boys after the game and saw the tears in their eyes, that’s football and they are professionals and it’s still like this,” said Klopp.

“This club touches you like crazy, it’s like you feel much more than others in these moments. It’s really great, I love it.

“It’s a special night, very special. Winning against Barcelona is obviously one of the most difficult things in the world of football. Winning against Barcelona when you are actually 3-0 down makes it not easier.

“We had to score four goals and [were] not allowed to concede. That made it, again, more difficult. So we didn’t really think about it, to be 100 per cent honest.

“We tried to build on the performance at Barcelona, all the good things we did there, and tried to win the game step by step.

“We have the ball, we attack with whatever we have — they have the ball, we defend with whatever we have. And that made it a really special game. It was really difficult to play against us tonight.”

Liverpool's midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri
Liverpool's midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri (L) celebrates with defender Trent Alexander-Arnold after winning the UEFA Champions league semi-final second leg football match against Barcelona at Anfield in Liverpool. Image Credit: AFP

At moments like these it is customary to pick out a star player. This was something else though, a performance with a startling unity of purpose. It was the unlikely figure of Georginio Wijnaldum, a half-time sub, who scored twice in the second half to level the tie on aggregate, and at the time you just thought, yes, of course. More, more of this.

Barcelona had been harried and hurried and stretched thin by the midway point in the second half. Tackles flew in. Toes were crushed, shins barked, ankles hacked.

It was classic red fury from the Klopp-metal playbook. When they come out and play like this there is something brilliantly reckless about them. Wherever this team go from here, whatever they end up winning, you suspect moments like these will remain the fondest memories.

Barcelona were quaking, taking in great, gulping breaths of air. They finally began to play in stoppage time, a team aware suddenly of what was happening to them. Too late. Liverpool were never going to let this slip.

There may have been more gloriously unbound nights in English football’s European history but this was an occasion that stands on its own, the night when the shadow trophies and cups seemed to fade and Liverpool found a moment of pure joy.