In the final part of my look back at some of my personal highlights of following Liverpool in the Champions League, the final three matches are from the 2007/8 and 2008/9 seasons. For the rest of the series, click to read part 1, or part 2.
9. Marseille 0-4 Liverpool
Midway through the 2007/8 group stage, there looked to be only a remote prospect of anything resulting from Liverpool’s Champions League campaign that was worthy of celebrating.
Bottom of the group with one point from three games – six points adrift of group leaders, Marseille – Liverpool’s only hope of qualifying was to win all three of their remaining games. The Reds’ response, while not as dramatic as their Istanbul heroics, has to be considered as the most emphatic turnaround in fortunes of a side who looked certain to be heading out of the Champions League at the group stage.
The recovery began with a record-breaking 8-0 home win against Besiktas, and when Porto arrived at Anfield on matchday 5 needing only a point to guarantee their passage into the next round, they too were beaten 4-1.
But the big test was to come in Liverpool’s final fixture away to Marseille on a bitterly cold December evening.
With both sides level on points, Liverpool could only go through by winning at the Stade Velodrome – something no other English club had ever managed to achieve.
Steven Gerrard’s early goal, scored from the rebound after his penalty had been saved, helped Liverpool get off to a perfect start and Fernando Torres weaved his way between the Marseille defence to add an excellent second goal with only 18 minutes played.
Marseille created chances of their own, but when Liverpool got an early second half goal, the contest was over and Liverpool had survived yet another dramatic Champions League scare.
10. Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal
It might have been tempting to include Liverpool’s second round win over Italian champions-elect Inter Milan in the list for this series, but for sheer drama, the quarter-final against Arsenal was the stand-out Champions League game of the season.
A 1-1 first leg draw at the Emirates had led to some suggestions from the Arsenal camp that Liverpool would be looking to progress on away goals, and may have looked to simply play for a 0-0 draw at Anfield.
But any ideas Liverpool had of keeping a clean sheet were scuppered once Arsenal went ahead in the first half. That was cancelled out by Sami Hyypia’s equaliser before the interval, and with 20 minutes remaining of the second period, Fernando Torres put Liverpool on aggregate for the first time with a wonder strike at the Kop end.
There was enough time left for more twists in a pulsating finish which started when Theo Walcott’s 80-yard run was finished by Adebayor to give Arsenal a second away goal – and with six minutes to go, they were heading into a semi-final meeting with Chelsea.
But less than a minute later, Ryan Babel earned a penalty that was dispatched by Gerrard, and it was once again advantage Liverpool – and the sixth time throughout the two games that there had been a change in the aggregate leaders of the tie.
As Arsenal searched desperately for another equaliser, Liverpool grabbed a fourth goal on the counter attack. In the second minute of added-on time at the end of the second leg, the tie was finally decided with some certainty.
It wasn’t to lead to a third Champions League final in four years though, mostly thanks to injury time drama at the same goalmouth in the semi-final, when a John Arne Riise own goal gave Chelsea a draw at Anfield. That result proved to be crucial in helping the Londoners to finally overcome Liverpool in the last four.
11. Liverpool 4-0 Real Madrid
Despite the rich European pedigree of both teams, Liverpool and Real Madrid had never been drawn to play each other over a two-legged European tie. On departing Anfield following their first visit to the stadium in March 2009, Real Madrid may well have wished that statistic was still true.
Knocked out of the competition at the second round stage in each of the previous four seasons, Real Madrid had also started the season badly in Spain in their quest for a third straight La Liga title. But a change of manager shortly before Christmas had led to an improvement in results, and Juande Ramos’ team faced Liverpool on the back of a recent run of ten straight victories in La Liga.
Yossi Benayoun’s goal had been enough to settle a tight first leg at Santiago Bernabeu in Liverpool’s favour, and although Real Madrid hadn’t enjoyed much Champions League success since winning the trophy in 2002, there was more than enough quality in their team for them to turn the tie around on Merseyside.
Several of the Real Madrid team that started the match have since gone onto become key members of their title-winning team under Jose Mourinho, and of those who did go on to leave Madrid, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben have each helped their new clubs to reach Champions League finals.
No amount of quality – or experience – could cope with Liverpool’s performance on the night though, and from the moment that Fernando Torres opened the scoring against his old city rivals after 16 minutes, the Reds never looked back.
Two goals from Gerrard and a further strike by Andrea Dossena handed Real Madrid their biggest defeat in the Champions League era, and just one goal short of their heaviest European loss of all time. But the star of the show despite the loss was Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who made a host of spectacular saves to deny Liverpool an even more convincing win.
In the resulting quarter-final, Liverpool were unable to overturn a first leg 3-1 loss at home to Chelsea, despite their considerable efforts in a 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid’s emphatic defeat signalled the start of a new era of ‘Galacticos’, and a €300m summer spending program was sanctioned – with an intention of seeing Real Madrid return to the summit of Spanish and European football.