Jürgen Klopp brought together the Liverpool players in the first week of March, on the eve of the Premier match that would face Manchester United at Anfield. In the course of one of the tactical talks, the German coach made a point to warn his audience that he had a plan to overcome the 2-5 loss that Madrid had endorsed them in the first leg of the round of 16 of the Champions League played on February 21st. They say in the technical secretariat of the Mersey club that after hearing the coach —true wizard of motivation— the veterans of the squad were just as enthusiastic as the younger ones. Suddenly, what he had imagined as a vertical climb began to appear as the crossing of a flat.
The club’s leaders are pessimistic —they don’t think they have more than a 5% chance of going to the quarterfinals— but excitement is growing among the footballers. For a week now, the Liverpool dressing room has been fascinated by the idea of delivering a historic coup at the Bernabéu. Never before has a team that lost by a difference of three goals at home in the first leg save the tie in the rival field.
Determined to avoid bleak images, Klopp persuaded the players not to view the comeback as a unique undertaking in which they were required to win by three goals or more. Instead, he told them to think of the Bernabéu game as a three-way process. microparties different: first and second part, and extension. If they won the first half and then the second, they would be detected, the tie would be in their hands. The purpose of the first of these mini-matches consistent, he said, in reaching the break with a goal advantage; in the second he could print a high pace but without rushing. It would be enough for them to reach the 45th minute with another goal ahead. If they did, he was satisfied. The discount would remain to equalize the tie.
Liverpool intends to keep the comeback plan in the strictest secrecy. But to the leaders and former employees, witnesses to the history of an entity that has won six Champions Leagues, the German’s strategy is very familiar. Everyone remembers the comeback in the Istanbul final, the day Liverpool lifted Milan 3-0 in the first half after what is known as The Miracle of Istanbul: Rafa Benítez’s masterpiece, in 2005. Beyond the tactical adjustments, the extraordinary thing about the Madrid native’s talk at half-time was the simplicity of the message. He reached the heart of the troop. The emotional impulse was decisive. This is how Gerrard, Alonso and Carragher recognized it.
Benítez harangued them saying that the final was lost but that perhaps he would at least try to win the second half to comfort the 30,000 people who had traveled to Turkey. He asked them to jump onto the field as if a new game was starting. It was enough with a 1-0 in the second 45 minutes. “I gave a general talk, trying to motivate the team emotionally so that they came out with energy and conviction,” Benítez recounted years later. Perhaps without meaning to, he won the Champions League and patented a legend. The players attribute much of the success to him. Klopp has evoked those feelings.
“Now I think the tie has been resolved,” said Klopp, immediately ending the 2-5 first leg. “But three weeks from now… The closer we get to that game, the better our chances of coming back. We have to win by three goals difference to tie and they are very good on the counterattack. Our business is very difficult. But we will try to win the game. From there we will see what happens.”
“I’ll take care”
“I told the guys,” he said, “a loss is a loss if you don’t learn from it. What we have to learn from tonight is that our start was fabulous. For 45 minutes it was us again. Of course, a 5-2 can be very damaging. I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”
The locker room gave everything for lost. But by insisting that he will be happy with a victory in Chamartín, something that everyone believes is possible, Klopp has managed to convince his players that the tie is not closed. Van Dijk, Henderson, Salah and Roberston were excited. When they put Manchester United 7-0 on the 5th, they proved to themselves that they can take Madrid to the limit.
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