As we try and piece together the madness of Liverpool and Spurs’ epic victories this week, there is a profound sense of shock and awe shrouding Merseyside, North London and the wider football fraternity.
The drama, elation, and emotion of both results have rarely struck such a universal chord with football fans. Both clubs have their share of detractors, yet even the most bitter within their ranks would struggle to not be moved by what they saw on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
Never before had a three-nil aggregate lead been surrendered in a Champions League semi-final. Facing a rising tide of injuries to key players as well as a draining title race, Liverpool faced a mammoth task to overcome their star-studded opponents.
Similarly, Spurs went into their clash with Ajax, off the back of five defeats in six matches, in all competitions. Hardly in inspired form and with their own growing raft of injuries and fatigue; they too faced an uphill battle to book their place in Madrid’s showpiece finale.
And yet, here we are, facing the mouth-watering prospect of an all English final in Europe’s premier competition for the first time since 2008. No doubt, there were envious eyes from rival clubs, looking on in disbelief at the barely plausible comebacks at Anfield and the Johan Cruyff Arena.
While the narratives, thus far, have been heavily punctuated with references to fate and divine intervention, the reality is rather more sobering for those rivals watching on and scratching their heads.
Both Liverpool and Spurs played with an unquestionable belief and burning desire to forge their own, era-defining history.
In the cascade of emotion that spilled over on the pitch at the end of each game, the evidence was overwhelming, of the close bond and incredible unity between the players, fans and their managers. This was the vehicle that helped drive the players on the pitch – belief that they could get over the line.
The sheer depth of feeling and warmth from both Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino towards their players is no trick for the camera. They are top class coaches that have woven themselves into the DNA of their clubs and the emotional connection that they have has surely made a huge contribution to those semi-final dramatics.
Extra bit of graft
It’s hard to quantify the impact this connection has on the players, but anyone watching either tie will see the immense effort levels and hard yards ran by the Liverpool and Tottenham players in their victories.
There are some stats that hint at the kind of shift put in by Liverpool in the 4-0 home leg victory of Los Cules. The Reds covered a staggering 112 km over the course of Tuesday’s clash, whilst their pressing and hounding of the Barcelona players, saw them recover the ball 51 times.
By contrast, in Manchester United’s 0-1 home leg defeat to Barcelona, in the last round, their players 106 km, recovering the ball 41 times on the night. The difference may not be massive, but it’s the fine margins and that extra bit of graft that can make all the difference at this level.
Yes, Liverpool’s overall game is more geared towards pressing. But on the occasion of their 51st match of a draining season and having to chase down such a daunting opponent, you cannot discount the incredible togetherness and overall unity of the club as a factor in this historic result.
Refused to yield
This togetherness stems primarily from the manager, not just at Liverpool, but of course at Spurs. The affable Argentine was overcome with emotion and pride in Amsterdam as his side also recovered from a seemingly doomed 3-0 deficit.
Defeats may have been racking up in the Premier League, as tired legs have well and truly taken their toll on this excellent Spurs team. However, the players refused to yield to a youthful and cavalier Ajax side; pouring forward with every sinew of their being, to steal a 96th-minute winner via Lucas Moura’s low drive. This unbridled determination and sheer hard work put in has delivered Spurs to their greatest ever European night against incredible odds.
In a turbulent season of managerial question marks and uncertainty at the top clubs , perhaps there will be some head honcho’s behind the scenes taking a silent note at the impact these larger than life characters have had on their respective clubs and players.
Both Klopp and Pochettino are tactically shrewd and fiercely committed to their way of playing. However they are coaches that understand how vital it is to make that connection with their players and in turn to drive them to find that bit extra themselves to strive towards success on the pitch. Perhaps Klopp summed it best in his post-match comments on Tuesday night:
“We know this club is the mix of atmosphere, emotion, desire and football quality. Cut off one and it doesn’t work.”
A new benchmark in man-management is being set. The days of the cold, austere manager may well be ushered out of the back door in the coming weeks and months as the dust settles on this ridiculous week of outstanding football.