What value can be put on belief? It is one of those great sporting intangibles, along with team spirit and character, but anyone who doubted its worth at the elite level of football had their views challenged by what happened at Anfield on Tuesday night.
Statistics tell the tale of a game Liverpool deserved to win. They had more shots than Barcelona on the night and claimed a greater share of the territory despite the Catalans boasting a larger share of the possession. But what Jurgen Klopp’s side did on Tuesday night cannot be quantified in such a way. It was down to something else. Something that’s a bit more difficult to grasp.
For years, decades even, this great intangible seemed to be against Liverpool. Even when Anfield bore witness to great teams, like the ones assembled by Rafael Benitez and Brendan Rodgers, there was a gnawing sense of fatalism that all to frequently seeped into the players on the pitch. Their challenges almost always ended in glorious failure.
Of course, might contest that Liverpool’s recent successes have come as the result of a never say die attitude – see Istanbul and that Steven Gerrard stunner against West Ham in the FA Cup final. But even in these moments, Liverpool possessed an inferiority complex. If anything, these comebacks only served to accentuate further their complex. They saw themselves as underdogs.
There was something different about Liverpool’s Champions League semi final turnaround against Barcelona, though. Klopp’s men felt slighted by the heavy defeat suffered in the first leg. They believed themselves to be Barca’s equals and that shone through in the way they took the game to the Catalans on Tuesday night.
In the context of this season’s Premier League title race, Liverpool are still underdogs. They have pulled off countless comebacks, scoring several late goals to keep themselves within touching distance of Manchester City at the top of the table. With just one game left, Liverpool are just one City slip up away from being crowned English champions for the first time in a generation.
Liverpool already have a Champions League final against Tottenham Hotspur to look forward to. In that game, they will be favourites. In years gone by, that might have posed them a problem, given their inferiority complex. Under Klopp, however, Liverpool have eradicated that mindset.
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