The Best FIFA Football Awards™

The Best FIFA Football Awards™

Thursday 17 December 2020

The Best FIFA Football Awards

Jurgen Klopp: Defining match

Liverpool v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: Second Leg
© Getty Images
  • Jurgen Klopp nominated for The Best FIFA Men’s Coach 2019
  • Guided Liverpool to UEFA Champions League title
  • Won second leg of semi-final 4-0 after losing 3-0 to Barcelona in first leg

Losing against Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final meant 26 May 2018 was an excruciating night for Liverpool and coach Jurgen Klopp. For much of the 2018/19 season, there was a sense that the experience gave the Reds extra motivation to reach Europe’s biggest final again – and win it this time.

Then came the 3-0 defeat by Barcelona in the first leg of the semi-final, and it suddenly seemed as though Liverpool fans would have to console themselves with the well-worn adage: "Next year will be our year". Yet things turned out a little differently…

The tactics

With Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino ruled out due to injury, Klopp named Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi in his starting line-up before bringing Georginio Wijnaldum on for the ailing Andrew Robertson at the break. Origi and Wijnaldum ultimately contributed a brace apiece while Shaqiri set up the third goal.

Klopp opted for 4-3-3 while Barcelona primarily defended in a 4-4-2 formation. With the Catalans keen to keep things fairly compact in the centre of the park, Liverpool were able to play plenty of long balls out wide – one of the Reds’ strengths that season.

Positionally, Liverpool’s build-up play resembled that favoured by Manchester City, with five men pushing forward between Barcelona’s two lines. This area, where City often deploy their false full-backs, was the domain of Liverpool’s box-to-box midfielders.

While this understandably allowed the visitors a number of dangerous counter-attacking opportunities, the Reds’ central defenders and goalkeeper Alisson Becker repelled them all masterfully. In any case, Liverpool’s aggressive gegenpressing stifled most of Barça’s breakaways before they posed a serious threat.

The result

As expected, the home side started the match by pressing high in attack, forcing Barcelona to resort to a long-ball game that did not suit their strengths.

The opener came after just seven minutes when the visitors failed to deal with a long ball, leaving Origi to tap in. Both sides then had goalscoring opportunities before Klopp’s men doubled their lead. Again Liverpool breached Barcelona’s defence by successfully gegenpressing down the right before substitute Wijnaldum steered the ball goalwards from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross.

The Kop erupted with euphoria just two minutes later as Shaqiri delivered a cross – this time down the left – and Wijnaldum powered an unstoppable header past Marc-Andre ter Stegen. It was followed by one of the most legendary corners in football history, sealing a 4-0 win for the Reds and a place in the UEFA Champions League final.

Yet what would be the point of such a sensational performance if Liverpool went on to lose the final? It would have been a Pyrrhic victory. The fact that their eventual 2-0 triumph over Tottenham Hotspur in the decider four weeks later was a considerably less spectacular affair would not have bothered Klopp, his players or the club’s fans one bit.

The reaction

'I don’t think it’s possible, but because it’s you I think we have a chance.'

"If I have to describe this club then it’s a big heart and tonight it was pounding like crazy. You could hear it all over the world. Winning against Barcelona is one of the most difficult things in the world of football but with a clean sheet, I don’t know how they did it. Creating this emotional atmosphere together is so special. It’s all about the players. The mix of potential and unbelievable heart is just a mix I never saw before. It shows what’s possible in football. I said to the boys before: 'I don’t think it’s possible, but because it’s you I think we have a chance.' They are really mentality giants." Jurgen Klopp

"Before the game he did an amazing speech. It was something brilliant and I think he lifted us so high."
Dejan Lovren on Jurgen Klopp

"After the game in Spain we were confident we could score four and win 4-0. People outside doubted us. They thought we couldn’t do it. But once again we showed everything is possible in football. I was really angry that the manager put me on the bench. I just tried to help my team; I’m happy I could do that with two goals." Georginio Wijnaldum

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