The editor of Spanish newspaper ‘Marca’ may be tempted to revisit a memorable front page before next week’s Champions League quarter-final second leg.
“This is Anfield. So what?” the mouthpiece of Real Madrid asked before the last-16 tie with Liverpool in March 2009.
The sentiment proved poetically misjudged. Rafael Benitez’s side won 4-0 on one of those intoxicating European evenings when the skill and endeavour on the pitch complemented the cacophony of noise off it.
The enforced absence of the latter means Real will have less cause to fret as they seek to reconstruct the vacuous training-ground atmosphere they so relished in the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium on Tuesday.
Real, like all Anfield visitors during lockdown, will attempt to confirm their semi-final place in an unobtrusive arena. The next improbable European comeback by Liverpool must be executed and inspired by Jurgen Klopp and his players rather than the Kop.
The fact that sounds such a novel concept ahead of a European Cup quarter-final explains why there is already less optimism Liverpool can secure the 2-0 victory to deny Real than when needing to beat a much superior Barcelona team 4-0 two years ago.
Klopp and his players can make no rallying cries, nor can any psychological games be ramped up to worry fidgety visitors about what passionate mayhem awaits.
Against such a savvy, experienced and unflustered opponent, knocking Real out of their stride will demand all of Klopp’s managerial wisdom as much as the courage shown in the miracle of the 2019 semi-final.
At least then he could make the calculation that a fiery, high-tempo start would ensure his side would feed off the energy of the crowd for the full 90 minutes.
Now, Klopp has no choice but to rail against everything he believes in and remind the world that footballers, not supporters, win matches.
That is quite a dilemma, since it is the antithesis to Liverpool and Klopp’s romantic ideals. This season has confirmed what was long established; that the Merseyside club would not be what they are – and certainly would not have revived as they have under Klopp – without the tangible contribution of both.
Rose-tinted nostalgia has occasionally reduced legendary goalscorers and tacticians to a supporting role when reviewing Liverpool’s extended list of acclaimed European endeavours.
Revisit the evenings against St-Etienne in 1977, Chelsea in 2005 and Barcelona in 2019 and one would imagine Bob Paisley, Benitez and Klopp needed only to scribble down 11 names, send them out with a few encouraging words and the crowd did the rest.
But compelling examples of the ‘Power of Anfield’ are too numerous to ignore, with Klopp proving as adept as any predecessor at using historical precedent and harnessing emotion to his team’s advantage. Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona became the greatest of all the high-class sides to anxiously fail to settle for the first 25 minutes in the claustrophobic environment. By the time Barca adjusted, they had already conceded and felt destiny swinging irreversibly in the home side’s favour.
Dealing with that possibility has become part of every European opponent’s pre-match strategy. While Madrid’s press chose to mock the idea of a stadium being worth a couple of assists 12 years ago, other visiting coaches and players have similarly tried to downplay Anfield’s impact.
Far more have claimed they would revel in the noise and many have, not least Real when they were easy winners against Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool in 2014.
But on the occasions when players and supporters were in unison, even relatively substandard or injury-hit Liverpool teams have found a way to progress – as the superior Juventus and Chelsea sides of 2005 can testify.
Rival fans, naturally, argue the crowd’s impact is overhyped, ignoring how some of the most persuasive testimony has come from esteemed guests.
“It is the hardest place in Europe,” Arsene Wenger said of Anfield in 2019. “Today we build sophisticated stadiums, but that is a stadium with soul, with pressure really on the opponent. The atmosphere is special.”
Not without fans, it isn’t. If Liverpool are to map out a route to overcome Real Madrid, their 12th man will have to be their inspirational manager.
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