Jurgen Klopp Asserted Himself As One Of Europe’s Elite Whilst Ernesto Valverde Flopped On The Big Stage
Anfield bounced as the final whistle blew on their most incredible Champions League night and the 11 heroes dressed in red lapped up the adoration from the stands. One smile stood out from the crowd of players and staff - with Jurgen Klopp grinning from ear to ear, his glistening teeth almost blinding the Kop.
The loveable German played a huge part in booking Liverpool’s place in their second consecutive Champions League final, inspiring a phenomenal comeback that the footballing world could scarcely believe. At the start of the week, what looked like a difficult task became nigh-on-impossible when Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino were ruled out of the tie and many thought that Barcelona could start preparing for the final in Madrid.
Klopp maintained his quiet belief. Fans travelled to the stadium more in hope than expectation but they had seen opportunities come and go in the Nou Camp. The fact that they had received such a heavy beating in Spain took the shackles off for the second leg and set them free. They simply had to attack and press from the first whistle and that is exactly how to rattle this Barcelona side away from the Nou Camp.
Klopp set up with Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri as part of a front three alongside Sadio Mane. Trent Alexander-Arnold came in for the more defensively minded Joe Gomez who wasted some good attacking positions for the Reds in the first leg and it would be that subtle change that would play a huge part in the final result.
Origi scored the important first goal early on but Liverpool looked to have suffered a blow at half-time when Andy Robertson had to be replaced due to injury and in his place came an unlikely hero in Georginio Wijnaldum, with the ever-reliable James Milner dropping back to left-back. That proved to be an assertive attacking change for the Reds and you must praise Klopp for bringing on the Dutch midfielder rather than Joe Gomez.
Ten minutes into the second half, his second-half substitute had scored two, including a Gerrard-esque header, to bring the scores level on aggregate. Trent Alexander-Arnold fooled a sleeping Barca defence with a quick corner and Divock Origi was there to sweep home the goal that put the Reds in front after 169 minutes of end-to-end football.
In the opposite dugout, Barcelona manager made a whole host of mistakes. Perhaps there was a whiff of arrogance in the air but after the first leg, the Catalans should have been wary of the danger that Liverpool could cause them. At the Nou Camp, Barcelona gained control of the game when they brought on the pacy Nelson Semedo to play at right-back and pushed the energetic Sergio Roberto forward into a four-man midfield as Philippe Coutinho was withdrawn.
Perhaps it was the fact that the game was against his former club, perhaps it was the fact that he cost £121.5m, but Valverde’s decision to start such a player instead of favouring defensive solidity cost him big time. By the time he had made that same substitution, his side were 3-0 down and the game had slipped away.
Another bizarre change by Valverde came with the scores level on aggregate. Arturo Vidal had not had his best game but he was the only one in the Barcelona midfield providing energy and aggression on a tough night. His industry was sacrificed for the technically superior Arthur who looked lost in the Anfield atmosphere and weakened the visiting side.
Klopp truly shone on the biggest stage which leaves him with just one more hurdle to overcome - his poor record in major finals. He has lost his last six finals in a row and after an incredible season the Reds deserve to finish with some silverware. Klopp has put himself amongst the managerial elite whilst Barcelona’s Ernesto Valverde has more work to do if he is to reach that level.