Liverpool play the occasion, not the game and that's what Jurgen Klopp wants
Play the game, not the occasion is the wise advice from seasoned old pros, but at Anfield on Thursday night there was never any chance of that happening.
Why would Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp do that when the occasion is the best thing they have?
If you were to suggest to Klopp that he played the game, not the occasion, he would probably consider the proposition something of an insult, an idea of bone-headed stupidity when there is so much to be gained by tapping into whatever Liverpool does to itself on European nights.
They did it here again, swatting Villarreal aside on a night of true emotion and real intensity.
The day before the game, Dejan Lovren said he hoped this tie against Villarreal would be a less dramatic affair than the Dortmund quarter-final and in one sense he was right.
Liverpool had this game won from the moment the first whistle went.
The goals which arrived - one in the first half, two in the second - were just the confirmation of something which seemed to be known to all in the ground on Liverpool’s side from the moment the match began. The Villarreal players probably knew it too.
They were beaten by a team that made the game the occasion. It was impossible to know where one ended and the other began. This was an extraordinary fusion of the things Liverpool and its supporters believe about itself, undercut with an unrestrained anger that hasn’t gone away.
It was the first match at Anfield since the verdict of unlawful killing was delivered at the Hillsborough inquest and the emotion from that ruling, as well as the 27 years of waiting, was released into the atmosphere, providing a powerful sense of righteousness that added extra meaning to the night.
Villarreal had done the brave thing and had decided to defend the Kop in the first half, but it was revealed to be madness from the moment the game began. Liverpool advanced with menace and intent as if they needed to get things done quickly.
Klopp had agreed with a questioner before the game that it was important to be patient, but he made it clear he didn’t think Liverpool should be too patient. As it was, they started with the zen-like calm and restraint of a toddler whose favourite toy is snatched away from him in the playground.
Firmino... STOP THAThttps://t.co/PToEThRNkJ
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) May 5, 2016
They were manic and appeared to have been released from some unknown torment. Klopp, strangely, was the calmest man in the ground, while later Kolo Toure became so fervent while telling his team-mates to relax that Emre Can had to tell him quietly to return to his position.
Liverpool attacked and Villarreal seemed overawed by all they had to face. They had to face a lot. Roberto Firmino was relentless in his running and superb with the ball at his feet, while Can returned to the side as if he had never left. Daniel Sturridge was selected for his menace and having forced the first own goal, scored the second and played his part in Adam Lallana’s third, it could be said he did what he was picked to do.
By the end, Villarreal were broken, lashing out while Klopp implored the crowd to offer more support, more backing, even though the game was won.
Beforehand, the Villarreal team coach had to drive slowly through the narrow streets that remain outside the old ground which is in the middle of redevelopment. Liverpool fans perched wherever they could in the manner which is now part of tradition, providing a gentle introduction for Marcelino’s side of what was to come.
When the Liverpool team drove by the scenes were familiar yet extraordinary, the banners and chants marking the great nights in their history, as well as the worst day in the club’s life. Inside and outside the ground, Liverpool fans chanted for justice, something they are closer to achieving now.
They marked the inquest verdict with a stunning rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and it seemed a surprise to see the players walking onto the field when this moment was all-consuming.
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) May 5, 2016
The players began as if they had absorbed everything Klopp wants, as if, as he said on Wednesday, everything they have been doing since he arrived in October has been building towards this game.
Villarreal ventured forward after about five minutes and tested Simon Mignolet. There are vulnerabilities in this Liverpool side but Villarreal could only briefly locate them and within minutes Liverpool had the lead.
If this was an ordinary game, there might have been concerns that Klopp’s side had only scored once - to level the tie - in such a dominant first half.
But it wasn’t a game, it was something else. It was the club Jurgen Klopp believed he was joining when he arrived last year, a force which on a night like this can appear unstoppable.