Miguel Delaney: 'The connection between his players and the crowd fed into a team being unyielding, unquenchable'
The Reds rallied from 3-0 down after the first leg to beat the Spaniards 4-0 at Anfield in one of the great European nights
Where there’s football, Jurgen Klopp effectively said on the eve of a very special night, there’s hope.
And where there’s Klopp in football, there is the most irrepressible mental resolve. There is the most spirited action on that hope.
This, out of so many stunning elements at Anfield that added up to the stadium’s greatest European night, was what stood out most.
It is as if nothing can suppress the sheer will of this team. Not a wobble of form; not a momentous Manchester City win; not two massive injuries; not a 3-0 first-leg deficit to a club like Barcelona. They keep on through it all. That resolve is by now undeniable. Liverpool really should not be as relentless as this. They really should not be in the Champions League final.
There was no “beautiful failure” here, though, as Klopp also said in the pre-match press conference. There was only “monstrous mentality”.
That is actually a line Klopp has used in the past, when effusively praising his Borussia Dortmund team at their peak.
That in itself shows this is no fluke, as if that can even be argued any more. There have just been too many matches like this, too many jaw-dropping occasions like this. Too much defiance.
The really question is how Klopp instils it; how he manages to so mark his teams apart in this way.
It is remarkable to think – especially after nights like this – that there are some truly top-level European managers who privately disparage Klopp as little more than “a motivator”.
How they would love motivation like this. How they would love results like this.
They’re also partly wrong. As Liverpool’s best football illustrates, Klopp is at the forefront of the tactical evolution of the sport. His interpretation of pressing has influenced even Pep Guardiola, and so many others.
Liverpool simply play the most modern football.
But what really elevates it is the force of that football, the application. That requires this kind of resolve, this response. It requires that motivation that so stands out.
Much of it is down to Klopp’s charisma, in the political science definition of the term. His force of personality affords an supreme level of persuasion, that inspires deep devotion. Players are just drawn to him, and believe what he says. You only had to look at the hugs and tears afterwards.
But that itself still requires more everyday acts of management.
One here was how Klopp actually did mention City’s win – the previous night’s 1-0 over Leicester City – to his players on the day of the Barcelona game, but only so as to psychologically confront it to dismiss its effect; to ensure no one dwelt on it.
“This morning we had a meeting, and I said ‘anyone want to talk about last night?’” Klopp revealed. “No. We have to play the last match and we have to try and we will see. We fight again.”
We go again, onto the future.
That has extra meaning, because Klopp doesn’t like to dwell on much at all. Another act is how Klopp doesn’t see the benefit in drawing on a club’s history, even at a club as prestigious as Liverpool. He thinks that can weigh on players. The German instead looks to whip them to seize occasions; to make their own history. This is how they start games so frenetically. It was precisely how they approached this one.
“We still have a chance, so believe in it,” Klopp told his players in the Anfield dressing room.
“We want to create our own history,” he added afterwards. “Not because we are not happy with the history of the club but because we want a unique new chapter.”
They have that. Not even Anfield had seen a night like this.
That night ended with the players stood in unison in front of the Kop, singing You’ll Never Walk Alone, in a scene reminiscent of one closer to the start of his reign. That was after a mere 2-2 home draw with West Brom, that many people mocked at the time.
No one is mocking Liverpool now. Most are too stunned by what Liverpool have done now, and there is a direct line between that night and this.
That reaction to the West Brom result was never about “celebrating a draw”. It was about Klopp trying to create a deeper connection between his players and the crowd, about fostering a subconscious layer of effort because of that deeper realisation of what it all actually means.
He is well aware of that power, and it’s why he specifically sought a club like Liverpool as his next job after leaving Dortmund. He all but admitted this afterwards, too.
“When you work for Dortmund, it is difficult to know another atmosphere like this is possible,” Klopp said. “It is just amazing, unbelievable.”
It has all fed into a team being unyielding, unquenchable.
It’s remarkable to think now Liverpool’s sensational season could have ended so tepidly, that there was the real danger a Champions League semi-final second leg and a genuine title decider could have been two flat non-events.
Not when Klopp’s there.
One of those games has already been more than an event. It has been one of the great occasions, putting the club in sight of one of the great successes.
All of this emotional investment, in the face of City’s own potentially deflating relentlessness, could mean something yet.
Klopp has ensured that, whatever happens on Sunday, Liverpool’s season doesn’t end there. He’s ensured, as ever, they keep going. He’s ensured there’s hope, because there’s his resolve.
Independent News Service