The Reds have advanced to the Europa League final in rampant fashion following their 3-1 aggregate win over Villarreal.
Our spirits were buoyed an hour before kick-off when our two best non-Brazilian players returned to the starting XI; Emre Can recovered from an ankle problem and Daniel Sturridge was restored after Jurgen Klopp strangely chose not to feature him in the first leg.
Both returned in imperious form. Can dominated from the outset in the space afforded to him by Villarreal’s rigid 4-4-2 and Sturridge was a constant menace to the defence with his clever positioning.
It was Sturridge’s positioning which brought about the Reds’ opener. True, the defending was poor and he didn’t get the final touch, but his presence in the penalty area cause enough confusion for the Kop to suck the ball into the net from the Yellow Submarine skipper’s leg.
But there was no doubting the England striker for Liverpool’s second goal of the tie, which ultimately would win it. His positioning again proved decisive. While the finish itself was slightly fortunate, the celebration was simply brilliant. The jubilant face and flailing arms were infectious, certainly to this supporter who found himself following Sturridge to the corner flag from his lounge room.
The Yellow Submarine was well and truly sunk by this stage. Victor Ruiz was sent off for a second yellow card and Adam Lallana added a sweetener for Liverpool but the damage had been done.
In truth, the match was won even before kick-off. After Villarreal took a slight advantage from the first leg, Klopp warned that there was still plenty to play for:
“Sorry, but it is not over. You have to come to Anfield too.”
His words proved prophetic, as Villarreal seemed overawed by the atmospheric occasion. It started from the top with their manager Marcelinho. He out shone Klopp on the sideline in the first leg, constantly gesturing, remonstrating and using his technical area as a launching pad rather than a restriction. He was insufferable.
But it was a changed man who arrived at Anfield a week later. He was timid and reserved. His attitude seemed to affect his players, or vice-versa. The captain Bruno set the tone with an early own goal, goalkeeper Alphonse Areola couldn’t catch a cold and Roberto Soldado returned to his peak Tottenham form (dreadful).
But as poor as the Spanish side were on the night, Liverpool were exceptional. All 11 players delivered for the vociferous Anfield support and continued the spellbinding run all the way to the Europa League Final, ensuring one more 5am wake-up call for their Australian supporters.