On the eve of Liverpool’s return to Europe’s elite competition, Simon Bracken looks back on some of the most memorable Champions League nights at Anfield.
After a five year absence Liverpool are back in the European elite much to the delight of their supporters. A European night at Anfield holds a special allure for any football fan with the crowd often pushing the team to heights that would be beyond reach at any other stadium in the world. Tonight’s match with Ludogorets marks the return of the Europe’s top competition to Anfield and in preparation for that, here, in chronological order, are five of best Champions League nights at the ground.
1. Liverpool 2–0 Roma 2002
Gerard Houllier masterminded an unique treble in 2001 as well as guiding his side to a third place finish, something which saw a return to Europe’s top table for the first time in 17 years. Back in the days of two group stages, Liverpool were drawn with Barcelona, Galatasaray and Roma in the 2nd group stage. A extremely tight group full of draws came down to the final game at Anfield, where Liverpool needed a two goal victory over the Italian champions to guarantee qualification for the quarter finals. The match was lent special significance by the fact that it was Houllier’s first match back in the dugout after five months away following a heart attack at Elland Road. Jari Litmanen opened the scoring from the penalty spot before Emile Heskey, who believe it or not was once a Champions League level performer, headed home the clincher.
2. Liverpool 2-1 Juventus 2005
This was another match where the off-field circumstances contributed to a magical atmosphere. The quarter-final clash marked the 25th anniversary of the Heysel Stadium disaster in which 39 Juventus supporters tragically died. The atmosphere generated by an emotional pre-match ceremony carried Liverpool into an early two goal lead thanks to two remarkable volleys. Sami Hyypia swept home a corner before Luis Garcia produced a dipping screamer. Rafa Benitez’s side defended the lead for the rest of the tie and despite a goalkeeping error from debutant Scott Carson which handed Fabio Cannavaro an away goal, Liverpool held on to meet Chelsea in the semi-final.
3. Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea 2005
Goal or no goal? Luis Garcia’s third minute ‘ghost goal’ proved the difference in this tie and Liverpool would go on to glory in the final in Istanbul. “The best team lost” was how the enraged Blues boss Jose Mourinho characterised the game, a reference to the controversy surrounding Garcia’s aforementioned ghost goal, in the days before goal line technology no one is sure whether it actually crossed the line.While the atmosphere against Juve was special, the Kop went a step further in this semi-final match channeling 25 years of waiting into one night. The spine tingling result coupled with a Jamie Carragher led resistance saw the hosts over the line, even if they had to endure a heart stopping finale when Eidur Gudjohnsen’s volley shaved the post.
4. Liverpool 1-0 Chelsea 2007
A repeat of the semi-final from 2005 resulted in the same scoreline. Having been taken apart by Drogba in the first leg, Daniel Agger responded with a dominant performance and the crucial goal from a well worked set-piece. The tie finished level on aggregate and eventually went to a penalty shoot-out. Robben and Geremi missed for Chelsea before Dirk Kuyt stepped up to slot in the winner and send Liverpool to Athens.
5. Liverpool 4-0 Real Madrid 2009
In terms of performance this was the peak of the Benitez era. A rampant Liverpool swatted Madrid aside at Anfield with Steven Gerrard giving a performance which moved Zinedine Zidane to label him just about the best player in the world. Leading 1-0 from the first leg, the hosts tore into the opposition with an ultra-motivated Fernando Torres opening the scoring. Gerrard doubled the lead from the penalty spot before scoring a sublime half volley in the second half as Liverpool coasted to victory. Andrea Dossena added the icing on the cake, as he would at Old Trafford four days later, and the Reds were into the quarter-finals where a Chelsea ambush awaited them.
Simon Bracken, Pundit Arena.