The fabled European night at Anfield was the backdrop to yet another comeback victory for Liverpool, this time over Villarreal, as the Merseysiders coasted through to a first European final in nine years. We now look back on some of the Reds’ most memorable continental finals as they prepare to lock horns with Sevilla on May 18th at the St. Jakob-Park in Basel.
Following a disappointing outing at the Madrigal a week earlier, where the Reds fell to a 1-0 defeat to the Yellow Submarine courtesy of a last minute Adrian Lopez winner, it was crucial Liverpool came out all guns blazing at Anfield to secure their progress to the final. The Reds, buoyed by the return of Emre Can and the performances of Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge, cruised comfortably past Marcelino Garcia’s men in a 3-0 demolition of the La Liga outfit.
As James Milner leads his side on to the field on the night of the Europa League final, a new generation of Reds will write a fresh chapter in the club’s iconic European history. Whether they succeed remains to be seen, but the Reds can take great heart from the unreal transformation they have undergone in 7 months under Jurgen Klopp. That said, a fabulous final awaits us on May 18th between Liverpool and competition favourites, Sevilla. But will it be as good as the following three incredible finals that the Reds have been part of in the past?
1) ‘Mayhem at Dortmund!’
Dateline: 16th May 2001
Competition: UEFA Cup
Final Score: Liverpool 5-4 Alaves (After Extra-time)
Venue: Westfalenstadion, Dortmund
Having already wrapped up the League Cup and FA Cup, Gerrard Houllier’s side were on the cusp of securing a remarkable cup treble. Standing in their way was free-scoring Deportivo Alavés who made their way to Dortmund on the back of a 9-2 (on aggregate) demolition of FC Kaiserslautern in the semi-final. Meanwhile, Liverpool faced a more stern test in the form of Catalan giants FC Barcelona en-route to the final.
With both the sides embracing an attacking brand of football, the fans gathered at the Westfalenstadion were assured of a competitive finale with its fair share of goals. What followed was a goal-frenzy in a frenetic end-to-end game that saw Liverpool have leads of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3 wiped out by their Spanish opponents before the Reds took the game in extra-time through a golden goal that unfortunately came off Alaves’ left wing-back, Delfi Geli.
The Reds took an early 2-0 lead through goals from Marcus Babbel and Steven Gerrard before Ivan Alonso reduced the deficit, only for McAllister to slot in a penalty to make it 3-1 at half time. A second-half brace from Javi Moreno helped Alaves equalize on the night, before Robbie Fowler scored the fourth in the 73rd minute. Jordi Cruyff saved his best header for last to net a late equaliser for the Basque outfit to make it 4-4 in the 88th minute.
In a tense end to the game that eventually stretched into extra time, Alaves had two players sent off, with the 2nd sending off gifting Liverpool a free-kick in a promising position. Delfi Geli, in an attempted clearance, headed the ball back into his own net off McAllister’s free-kick to seal the tie in the Reds’ favour.
The UEFA Cup final of 2001 will never serve as a suitable manual for good defending in a match where the back line of both the sides was all over the place. Instead, it’ll be remembered for the sheer madness that ensued on the night of a nine-goal thriller in a European final.
2) ‘Miracle at Istanbul’
Dateline: 25th May 2005
Competition: UEFA Champions’ League
Final Score: A.C.Milan 3-3 Liverpool FC (2-3 After Penalties)
Venue: Atatürk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul
No article summarizing Liverpool’s famous European nights is complete without the mention of that miraculous evening at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul. The Reds had endured a dream run through to the Champions League final overcoming the challenges of the likes of Olympiacos, Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea. However, in AC Milan, the Merseysiders were up against the greatest team of the era and faced an uphill task in attempting to win the Champions League crown for a 5th time.
The Rossoneri were off to a flyer with Paulo Maldini netting a goal in the first minute for the Italian club. In a dominant and authoritative half of football, Carlo Ancelotti’s side schooled Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool, and if not for Jerzy Dudek, the scoreline would have been even more emphatic in favour of AC Milan. A Hernan Crespo brace sent the sides into half-time with the score reading 3-0.
With all seeming lost, the Reds restarted the game in the second half a different team, going forward with more authority and confidence than in the first half in a bid to get something out of the game. The pressure put on Milan by the Reds eventually culminated in six of the most iconic minutes in living memory as Liverpool forged the most dramatic of comebacks through goals from Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso.
With the game finishing at 3-3 after extra-time, Jerzy Dudek put up the display of his life in the penalty shoot-out to deny Andrea Pirlo, Serginho and Andriy Shevchenko and help bring the European trophy back to Anfield. The match will long be remembered as one of the greatest Champions League finals ever contested.
3) ‘Where it all began.’
Dateline: 25th May 1977
Competition: European Cup (Now known as the Champions’ League)
Final Score: Liverpool 3-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
In 1977, the Reds led by Bob Paisley made it to their first ever European Cup final. Having weathered some difficult fixtures in the group and knock-out stages early on in the competition, the Merseysiders were pitted against Germany’s Borussia Mönchengladbach in the final in a battle to secure their first continental crown.
The mainstay in attack for the Reds through the competition had been the partnership of Welshman John Toshack and Englishman Kevin Keegan. The Germans had made no secret of their plans to keep the duo silent and had lined up their tactics around muting the attacking threat posed by the Reds’ forwards, only for Bob Paisley to exclude Toshack from the lineup. Borussia had effectively lost the plot even before a ball had been kicked as the German side got things tactically wrong.
Liverpool got their noses in front in the 28th minute after a tackle from Ian Callaghan sent Steve Heighway clear through on the right flank. The Republic of Ireland international then cut in and delivered a through ball into the box for Terry McDermott, who slotted the ball into the back of the net.
Allan Simonsen, the 1977 European Player of the Year, levelled things up for the German club before goals from Tommy Smith and Phil Neal put the game beyond Borussia’s reach. A 3-1 result at full-time confirmed a first European crown for the Reds. It was the culmination of a 13-year endeavour and the start of an unprecedented period of dominance by an English club in Europe.