Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool have not been 'silly idiots that stay on the floor' and that won't start now
At the lower tiers in the belly of a beast that has hosted European Cup finals, home to some of the greatest players and teams the world has ever seen, there were two overwhelming questions...
Was the manner of Liverpool’s defeat to Barcelona - an unreal away performance undercut by a catastrophic result - detrimental to the end of their season? And how could the squad be galvanised when the gargantuan effort of such a stellar campaign could finish with nada?
In the press conference room of Camp Nou, Jürgen Klopp fielded those enquiries post-match as did Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, Gini Wijnaldum, James Milner and the others that stopped in the mixed zone.
Their reactions were aligned: disappointment in losing 3-0 to Barca after, as Ernesto Valverde put it, “making them suffer,” but there was unmistakable defiance too. Nothing is over until it actually is, not the Champions League semi-final tie nor the title race.
Rewind to Liverpool’s previous responses to decisive setbacks under Klopp and there is a clear pattern: they do not wilt, returning more refined, more resilient.
At the end of February 2016, when the Merseysiders surrendered the League Cup on penalties to Manchester City - their first big knock of the German’s tenure - the manager set the tone for how they would reply as a team.
“You always have to strike back. We can say all of these things, but you know you can fall down and then you have to stand up.
“That’s the truth, but it’s completely normal – only silly idiots stay on the floor and wait for the next defeat. Of course we will strike back – 100 percent
“Don’t worry, we will go on, we will get better and that’s how it is. We have to go the hard way—that’s how it is.
“Nothing is easy in this moment, but we can see if we carry on working really hard then there is new light at the end of the tunnel.”
Liverpool’s next encounter was against the same opponents in the league, which resulted in a 3-0 victory at Anfield and the famous “Boom!” summary from Klopp.
Then Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal all fell as the Reds did the unthinkable at the time by reaching the Europa League final.
Sevilla stunned them in a ruthless second-half showing in Basel to lift silverware and leave Liverpool having to answer whether they would be stuck to or spring up from the canvas.
They responded by securing a top-four finish, giving them a shot of Champions League football for only the second time in eight seasons. That was followed by an improbable, intoxicating journey from Hong Kong to Kiev, in which they ceded Philippe Coutinho to Barca mid-season only to still reach the European Cup showpiece against Real Madrid.
At the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, the pain of being punched square on 3-1 by the Spanish giants was gut-wrenching after losing Mohamed Salah to a shoulder injury and with Loris Karius, who still had 26 markers out of 30 for concussion five days after the final, twice blundering.
That was, by some distance, the most devastating knockout Liverpool have endured under Klopp, but they dusted themselves off to become title contenders and reach the final four of the Champions League again. The evidence suggests there will be no “hangover” - to borrow Robertson’s parlance - for the remaining domestic fixtures against Newcastle and Wolves nor the mountainous second leg against Barcelona.
“We are near the end of the season but we've got three, hopefully four, games left,” the left-back said on Wednesday night.
“We need to go strong into the Newcastle game first and we need to get our bodies, first and foremost, ready and then go again because we can't let our foot off the gas. We need the three points and push them [City] the whole way.
"It's going to be a tough task, but we need to believe that we can do something special,” he added on the reverse fixture against Lionel Messi and co.
“If there is any place to do it it's Anfield. We have fallen short tonight, but we can be proud of the performance and we just needed that bit of luck.
"We are still young and will still learn and be better for it in years to come. We can be proud of what we have done this season but we need one big, final push now.”
Milner echoed Robertson’s sentiments that if there was ever a stage to do the unthinkable next week Tuesday, Liverpool had it. “If it’s possible anywhere then it is possible at Anfield,” he said before adding: “We’ve seen the character in this squad on more than one occasion over the last few years. We all know the character that is there, we need to be together and bounce back. I have no doubt this team will do that.”
Every Liverpool comment post-match seemed a product of cut and paste, but not on account of being cliche or the sort of guff footballers feel they have to say. It was another nod to their collective drive and while there will be understandable external frustration that the club could be nearly men again come curtain call, to discard how far they’ve come, how fast they’ve done it and the authoritative manner they’ve displayed is not just careless but crackbrained.
The 6-1 embarrassment at Stoke City, after all, was only 47 months ago.
Soon, Liverpool will have to take that final step - on a podium, drenched in confetti and champagne, rewarded in metal for their exertions, for their process - but can anyone sanely argue that this “ambitious like hell” team on 91 points with two league games still to play, who have managed back-to-back Champions League semi-finals, aren’t on the closest path to achieving that?