THURSDAY brings with it Liverpool’s biggest European game since the 2010 UEFA Cup semi-final with Atletico Madrid.
Little did we know when Diego Forlan was denying us the chance to batter Roy Hodgson’s Fulham in the final that it would be the last time the Reds would make any kind of notable impression in Europe until Jürgen Klopp came to town.
The second leg with Borussia Dortmund promises to be an epic Anfield night, and one thing fixtures like this always do is rekindle old memories of similar occasions — nights that went down in history and sent us all to town.
One such night was when Rafa Benitez and his barmy 2005 Reds dismembered a star-studded Juventus team at Anfield, with goals from Sami Hyypia and Luis Garcia giving the home side an early 2-0 lead.
Everything was looking rosy until a late Fabio Cannavaro header somehow found its way through a young Scott Carson and the Italians had an away goal that many felt would be enough to see them through.
Eleven years ago today, Liverpool played Juventus in the second leg of the Champions League quarter final tie with the world assuming that this would be where the fairytale would end for the English side.
It is a game that is often overlooked when reminiscing about how that season ended, with the iconic Garcia strike from the first game immediately springing to the minds of fans when you mention the tie.
However, the job that Benitez and his new team managed to pull off (the Italian Job, if you will) was nothing short of incredible, even if it wasn’t the most interesting of games for the spectators.
It was the sort of game that neutrals will have likely wiped from their memories mere minutes afterwards, but not a single care would have been given by Liverpool. They had knocked one of the European greats out of the biggest of European competitions, in their own back yard no less.
At least a draw, or two away goals, were needed in the Stadio Delle Alpi against a team that would go on to win the Serie A title by seven points, ahead of the same AC Milan side that would reach Istanbul. Admittedly, the Bianconeri would later have the title stripped from them in the ‘Calciopoli’ scandal, but they were a very impressive group nonetheless.
Just to remind you what Liverpool were up against, the Juve starting line-up selected by Fabio Capello that night was Buffon, Thuram, Montero, Cannavaro, Camoranesi, Emerson, Olivera, Zambrotta, Nedved, Ibrahimovic and Del Piero.
Benitez went into the game with a line-up that included Traore, Nunez, Biscan, Riise and Baros, with John Welsh and Darren Potter on the bench.
One positive was the return of Xabi Alonso, who hadn’t played since the January, but that plus was overshadowed by the minus of missing the injured Steven Gerrard, who had suffered a groin strain in the previous weekend’s defeat at Manchester City.
With the phenomenal firepower of Nedved, Ibrahimovic and Del Piero to contend with, and without their ‘Captain Fantastic’, very few gave Liverpool a chance, and the anticipation was that the only way through would be if they could grab an away goal.
However, it became apparent early on that Benitez had come to Italy to escape with a clean sheet. The Spaniard had a clear gameplan, to nullify the attacking talents of Juve and to squeeze the life out of the game, and why not?
The plan almost went out the window early on as Zambrotta found Ibrahimovic unmarked in the box, but remarkably the Swede blazed over from point blank range. It was another of those moments where you wondered if the Reds’ name was on the cup.
The front pair of Baros and Garcia got very little out of a typically ruthless Italian defence, but at the other end, Hyypia and Carragher were out-Italianing (probably a word) them all, catching anything that moved offside.
Capello’s team had barely troubled the Reds in the first half, the Ibra chance aside, and changed Ruben Olivera for Marcello Zalayeta at the break, but it was the Merseysiders who had the first chance of the second half. Alonso released Baros, but the Czech striker somehow managed to guide the ball wide when in on goal.
It took until the 63rd minute for the hosts to force Dudek into his first save as he stopped Emerson’s header from a Camoranesi free-kick.
Another injury return came late on as Djibril Cisse made his first appearance in months after his broken leg suffered earlier in the season at Blackburn.
The Frenchman’s role was somewhat moot though as the rest of the game involved Liverpool defending resolutely. A very late header from Cannavaro struck the post and sent hearts into Liverpool mouths for a moment, but the final whistle went shortly after and they had done it. The Reds had gone to Italy for a 0-0 and they had got it.
Benitez’s gameplan had worked a treat, and now they had booked a Champions League semi-final with Chelsea, where more history was waiting to be written.
On this night though, it was all credit to Rafa, all credit to the defence, and all credit to the mighty Reds who had vanquished a genuine giant of the game.
Liverpool would go on to have numerous great European nights like that one over the next few years, but they have been few and far between in this decade.
So let’s enjoy Thursday night, whatever happens. It’s a massive European night, and I for one have really missed feeling like a premier side of European competition, or even a relevant one.
Beating Juventus in 2005 was a statement and a pre-cursor to better things. If Klopp’s lads can beat Dortmund, well…