Apart from the presence of Iker Casillas, it was a very different occasion from Liverpool’s previous Uefa Champions League last-16 tie at Anfield. Indeed, even the presence of Casillas indicated how different it was. He kept a clean sheet on Tuesday and was applauded by the Kop on what may prove his 171st and last appearance in the premier European club competition.
Nine years earlier, he was beaten four times as Liverpool overwhelmed Real Madrid. Every single player to play in these kinds of games,” the Senegalese said. “We can beat any team in the world. It won’t be easy but we can do it.”
That fearlessness is explained in part by Liverpool’s big-game record under Klopp – only two defeats against the Premier League top six or in Europe since May 2016 – and was summed up by their approach towards next week’s Champions League quarter-final draw.
“I don’t think anyone wants us,” goalkeeper Loris Karius said. Defender Dejan Lovren added: “If we are ready and prepared to fight until the end, I am a big believer that we can see ourselves into the final.”
Each could be part of the rearguard at Old Trafford. Karius tipped a Majeed Waris shot wide but otherwise had a quiet night on Tuesday as he kept a fourth clean sheet in five games. While Klopp made a controversial call to promote his compatriot ahead of Simon Mignolet, Karius has since justified it.
Liverpool can be defined by their blistering, unconventional attack. Their goalkeeper sounded decidedly orthodox in his thinking. “Ninety per cent of the time, if we keep a clean sheet we win the game, because we score up front,” Karius said. “It was an aim for us, to build on the recent form of not conceding many goals and having a lot of clean sheets. That’s always a good thing for me and for the whole team.”
Lovren, another who has been in fine form of late, said: “Loris is in a good mood I would say and hopefully he will stay like that throughout the rest of the season.” The Croatian is in a battle with Joel Matip to partner Virgil van Dijk at the heart of Klopp’s defence.
The left-back Andrew Robertson, who was omitted because of a minor issue, is expected to be available. Captain Jordan Henderson completed the 90 minutes against Porto but then limped through the tunnels of Anfield, nevertheless saying he only had a dead leg and suggesting he will be fit.
Liverpool wrestled the runner-up spot off United when they beat Newcastle United on Saturday only for Nemanja Matic’s injury-time winner at Crystal Palace to enable Jose Mourinho’s side to leapfrog age-old rivals. “It’ll be a big fight for second place,” Lovren said.
Liverpool last came second in 2014. It was also the first time since 2002 that they finished ahead of United. They did so again last year, but have not done so in consecutive campaigns since a 23-year run of Merseyside superiority between 1968 and 1991.
A repeat is improbable in the extreme, but while some of their predecessors may have seen themselves as United’s inferiors, this Liverpool team do not. They are buoyant.
The National Sport.