TERRACE TALK: Opportunity knocks for Liverpool

This evening Liverpool play in their 12th final this century.

The league record up to 1990 meant there was often a cursory attitude to the knockouts. Shankly called the league “our bread and butter” but who wouldn’t rather have cheesecake?

He also said it was “a marathon not a sprint” but watch the Olympics and who’s bothered about some sweaty bods hobbling around for two hours?

You’ll be glued to those nine seconds of Usain Bolt and co, though.

Okay, enough rationalisation for Liverpool becoming a cup team. League performance is on hold, we hope it’s not permanent though it feels like it sometimes.

That’s Liverpool fans for you though; always wanting what they don’t have. When Evans’ team played good football, we wanted a more disciplined side. Houllier gave us that, and we became bored. Rafa made us number one in Europe but for pity’s sake, where’s the league? What do we want? “Everything” When do we want it? “You mean you haven’t got it already? Jesus…”

2016 has similarities with 2005, the last time Liverpool returned from the continent victorious and glorious.

The manager had just been changed. While the Premier League performance if anything declined, Europe provided real excitement.

Rafa won a few league titles for a club in his homeland against traditionally stronger opposition.

People wondered what the hell he saw in Liverpool to go there, but ended up in a European final — having failed months previously in a two-hour League Cup decider against a nouveau riche club intent on becoming football’s new plastic aristocracy.

The players weren’t his but he got them to Istanbul anyway. A few were on their way out. The accident-prone goalkeeper Dudek, the mistake-always-pending left-back Traore, the fill-in industrious midfielder Biscan who played in the semi but missed the final, the big expensive forward Cisse that Rafa’s predecessor somehow thought was going to succeed.

You don’t need satnav to see where I’m going with this. In 2016 we’re also playing a side with an excellent record in this competition, that’d won it numerous times since Liverpool last did.

It felt like we were treading on Milan’s turf too, despite our impressive run to the final. Juventus and Chelsea in 2005; United, Dortmund and Villarreal this time around.

If the similarities continue with a Liverpool triumph then great, but must it be a three-goal comeback in the second half too? I’m not sure I could take that again.

Sevilla are a mad team, lower down the league than the one Liverpool flattened in the semis but they excel in this tournament. Winning it last year got them a Champions League spot but it’s like they thought “nah, we’re happy enough where we are if that’s okay with you”.

Ha, I’m calling them a funny team. Ours is positively convulsive. It was so painful a stumble to the last 16 you never shook off the idea the Europa just got in the way, but Rafa and Gerard are Jurgen’s true predecessors.

From the off it appeared he wanted to do as well as possible in Europe. Modern football’s ghastly priorities meant league position and the wealth thereby was still the focus for some. Then we drew United and there was no backing down.

Once Klopp’s old acolytes followed in the quarter-final it was Europa or bust. The beating of Dortmund had that 1977 St Etienne feel to it; amidst the euphoria there was a realisation we might actually win this whole thing.

Three goals needed in 25 minutes and we got them. Took us 19 more than in Istanbul. Sevilla do not own the copyright on lunacy.

Pessimists don’t see it that way obviously. We only see the outline of a gigantic set-up, and not just with the result. There’s something stomach-churning about the ridiculously small ground Uefa selected.

The last thing anyone needs is any shenanigans that help the bigots at home decide that whatever any court’s verdict was, they were right about Hillsborough all along. See, this is why we obsess about Istanbul. There was something biblical about that stadium in the middle of nowhere, tens of thousands slogging towards it by any means necessary.

St Jakob-Park resembles a closed film set in comparison, the authorities desperately hoping no-one tries to sneak in. That really is black-sky thinking, so let’s focus on football and hope for a nice, efficient victory.

Who am I kidding? This is Liverpool. Even worse/better, it’s Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Even belt and braces coaches like Houllier and Benitez couldn’t stave off the 5-4 in Dortmund 2001 and the 3-3 in Istanbul 2005, or the Chelsea 4-4 in 2009.

This is a chance to cement our place as THE English club in Europe; a chance to get back into the Champions League; a chance to make Anfield a suitable stage for the best players in Europe; a chance to give Klopp’s reign a massive boost straight out of the gate.

No pressure then.


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