The stage was set. Istanbul. So many good memories for Liverpool fans, for this was the city where they defied all expectations and took home the 2005 Champions League in ceremonious fashion, dragging the game back from the depths to beat AC Milan on penalties having been 3-0 down. The summer sun setting on the Vodafone Park, transcending into a cool but dark night, providing a picturesque backdrop for their second trophy of the Jürgen Klopp era — adding to the Champions League they had picked up in Madrid back in June. But this wasn’t to be as routine. Once again their opponents emanated from the capital and Chelsea came especially hungry heading into this European curtain raiser.
It had been a strange summer over in west London. Despite a respectable season domestically, finishing third in the Premier League, and only succumbing to a League Cup defeat against Manchester City via penalties, Maurizio Sarri was relieved of his duties. Perhaps it was the Kepa Arrizabalaga incident, or the lack of cutting edge in the latter stages of the season, but club legend Frank Lampard had arrived in the hot seat at Stamford Bridge, off the back of a commanding Europa League win but without talisman Eden Hazard, who had completed a move to Real Madrid after saying goodbye to the fans in Baku.
The narrative was relatively straightforward — the all-conquering European champions, who had come within an inch of ending their 30-year league title drought, against Lampard’s ambitious but plucky youngsters, littered with academy graduates.
This had been a fixture full of pedigree in Europe, one with great memories and equally filled with a fair share of controversy — Luis Garcia’s ghost goal springs to mind.
Chelsea were certainly underdogs based on the way Liverpool played on the opening day, stamping their authority as favourites in the Premier League betting at Paddy Power. Lampard’s work was cut out for him, but dutifully stuck to his gameplan, which looked like it was going to pay off.
Liverpool’s capitulations defensively looked to be a thing of the past. After conceding just 22 goals in the league the season before, they went into this game without first choice goalkeeper Alisson Becker, replacing him with Adrián, who up until then had been training with fourth tier Spanish sides. It took just half an hour for Olivier Giroud to break the deadlock.
A succession of chances were squandered by Chelsea and after failing to really punish the Reds, a breakaway goal for Klopp’s outfit looked inevitable, but it was the tall Frenchman who eluded Joe Gomez, deputising at right back, to pull away and slot the ball across goal despite initially looking offside. Although the linesman would raise his flag three minutes later, denying Christian Pulisic the chance to double the Blues lead.
While Chelsea had started the brighter of the sides, and led going into the break, Istanbul was too poignant of a location for the Reds not to form some kind of fightback. Limited to just a handful of opportunities throughout the first half, they managed to pull themselves level with their first of the second. Miscommunication from Chelsea’s backline, admittedly a newly formed, makeshift one, allowed the ball to loop towards Roberto Firmino, who squared it to Sadio Mané for a tap-in essentially already in the goalmouth.
Momentum had shifted into Klopp’s court, something that seldom ends well for opposing managers. Mané was wreaking havoc out wide, orchestrating a Senegalese samba with his footwork to defy the industrious N’Golo Kanté and Emerson, who struggled to cement himself as a regular since joining from Roma the year before. Nonetheless, the Blues had kept him, and the rest of the Liverpool attacking triumvirate at bay long enough to take the game into extra time.
The most dangerous part about Liverpool’s front three is that while one of them may have an off day, in this case Mohammed Salah’s relatively quiet night by his standards, someone else can pick up the mantle and Mané dully obliged, grabbing his brace once Mason Mount’s clever finish was ruled out by VAR. Roberto Firmino delicately cut the ball across the box for the winger to lash home.
Some questionable refereeing when Tammy Abraham was taken down by Adrián in soft fashion courtesy of Stéphanie Frappart — the first female referee to officiate a UEFA men’s final — resulted in a penalty, allowing Jorginho to convert from 12 yards and take the game to a shootout.
The situation was certainly tense, especially at the goal end where a sea of red engulfed the main stand of the Vodafone Park. They had seen it all before but it never helps to settle the nerves. In moments like this, regardless of how people view the competition’s pedigree, a trophy is a trophy and for a club so starved of silverware for so long, this was nothing to take lightly.
Even though Adrián had been at fault for Chelsea’s equaliser, he and Abraham would meet again after everyone else had finished their penalties. Tied at 4-4, the Spaniard stopped the youngster’s driven effort with his feet and wrote his name into Liverpool folklore, although he now seems hellbent on tarnishing his reputation with every painstaking error since.
Over two years on and it is a Super Cup that will certainly live long in the memory for neutrals and Reds alike. However, it would be the Blues that have enjoyed the bigger laugh in recent times, picking up another Champions League in 2021 after Lampard left and Thomas Tuchel took over. Let’s hope there are plenty more battles between these two in future.
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