European Football - UEFA Europa League - Quarter-Final 2nd Leg - Liverpool FC v Borussia Dortmund

IT’S a question we can never truly know the answer to. One we can theorise and ponder over without truly nailing a definitive. What comes first, the passion or the performance?

After fearing the trademarked famous European Anfield nights had been lost forever, we have had some long overdue reminders of what the new version of the old ground can still produce this season. Laugh at us, mock at us, say our days are numbered, but when Lady Luck did us a favour and paired us with Manchester United it was the kick up the collective arse we needed. How could you not be up for that one? How could you, with every inch of your body and soul, not want the Reds to knock them out? And that was what happened. Everyone was on the same page. The passion in the stands was matched by performance on the pitch. We won, on and off the field. A big two fingers offered their way. Just the way we like it.

When The Kop finds its voice like that, when it puts on a display like that, are we really to believe it has no effect on the players and officials performing below? Among the many cliched retorts of footballers, is the line that they ‘block it all out’. They ‘just get on with their job’.

Yet home advantage remains just that. And it’s got to increase by a huge degree when it’s home advantage that pierces your eardrums. If it’s your fans making the din, that’s when it must feel like you are at a club in the truest sense of the word.

And does it effect the visiting side? Of course it does. A picture of Manchester United players furtively glancing at The Kop before kick off was captured and suggested as much. If your every touch is booed, and the opposition’s cheered, how does that not sow doubt in your mind and how does it not put a spring in the step of your opposite number? How does it not put into all of their minds the famous victories that have been achieved in L4? On this very pitch? Plenty are reductive about it all. Yet it happens. And it happens at Anfield.

More, that we did it, and did it so well, against Manchester United made us, the fans, and them, the players, believe we could do it again. Always banging on about the past us, aren’t we? It’s like any other ground these days. Well this was now. All the moans about the make up of the crowd were put aside. It’s still there. We’ve still got it in our armour. And while the draw again did us a favour by conjuring up a date with Dortmund, we all, fans and players, raised our game again for what now must feature among the very best of Anfield all time.

We needed that. It had been too long.

A constant tide of snide is aimed Liverpool’s way from fans of other clubs. Those that shouldn’t matter. But hear something enough times and it’s hard not to wonder. Apparently we’re deluded, dewy-eyed romantics who live in the past, pretending our club is great when it’s just like any other. It’s not special, they say. It’s just another club. Well sorry, lads. I’m in the Liverpool bubble, but I’m not seeing any other club’s fans turning it on like we did for Dortmund before, during and after. That was special. That was different. And that’s why we bang on as we do.

So back to the opening question. The passion and the performance. It feels this time that events have conspired against Liverpool. The fist-pumping, chest-pounding, head-exploding high of a comeback win against the best side in the competition seems long ago. Since then, Liverpool have plodded in the league, Mamadou Sakho has been banned, Divock Origi is out for the season, done by a donkey, and the mood has further been dulled by Leicester winning the league. 77 points. Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.

Amid all that was something far more important. The momentous events of last week, the right Hillsborough verdict after 27 years of waiting, made football seem an irrelevance for many. Understandably so.

Just as it seems that the best moments on the pitch are a coming together of the holy trinity, perhaps that mood filtered through the club to the players on the pitch. Despite the pedestals players, managers and football staff are placed on, they are, after all, only human. The magnitude of the verdict will have been recognised and felt.

Many fans didn’t much feel much like a game when Villarreal away arrived, perhaps it dripped into the players’ minds, too.

Whatever the reason, Liverpool lost last week. The Swansea game and the poor performance that followed on Sunday were perhaps understandable, especially given the team selection. A white flag was waved and the game only served to reinforce what we already knew about some players around the squad’s periphery.

But on Thursday we need to realign the sights. To do what we do. We want a performance, can we bring the passion? The opposition may not stir the soul quite like the previous two rounds but this is a European semi-final. The last four of a major competition. A chance of a trophy, and a beautiful one at that, and the opportunity to stretch an honours list the envy of clubs worldwide a bit more.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, March 10, 2016: Red smoke billows across the pitch from the main stand as Liverpool beat Manchester United 2-0 during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 1st Leg match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

An early start at Anfield Road is again the word. The King Harry. Six bells. Bring your singing. A Hillsborough mosaic is also planned for The Kop. Villarreal have been all nice and friendly and displayed their own tribute to the 96 fans that died. Thanks. But we need to shout and snarl again come kick off. We can get in their heads. They’ve blown it in semi finals before and today, on the anniversary of the Chelsea semi in 2005, we should know all too well how we can play a part on nights like these.

Remember Dortmund’s panicked huddle? How, without being urged or prompted, we kept on coming back with more even when it looked like we were out? Another song. Another roar. Another attempt to raise them, to back them, to make them feel like they’re special .That’s the spirit. That’s the passion. And as far as I can see, that’s what gets you a performance.

Make us dream, was the now famous banner, emphasising that players, managers, and the even the club in terms of its general direction, can get us in the right place to bring atmosphere A-game.

But we can make players and managers believe. Our passion, our noise, is infectious. A scientific study may not say so. A cliched quote may deny it’s the case. But come on.

It’s a large part of why Jürgen Klopp took this job; he picked us as much as we picked him. Because all that energy, that unwavering, relentless pursuit of a goal, even in the face of adversity. That’s what we’re about. That’s ingrained in the identity of the club and the city. That’s Liverpool.

Thursday then. Forget Leicester. Forget Mancs peddling shit jokes about sperm and whatever else distracts from the job in hand. The world revolves around Liverpool for us. As it should. Let’s do another famous European night and talk about the rest later. Bring the passion and bank on the performance. Be a believer not a doubter. Pour the anger, the relief, the upset and emotion into another Anfield atmosphere to be proud of.

See you at The Harry.