Jurgen Klopp celebrates after Liverpool came back to beat Newcastle (Getty Images)
Even the conjuror of many a comeback could not think of anything comparable. Jurgen Klopp cast his mind back over two decades in the dugout and said: “I think in my 1,000 games as a coach or a manager I never had a game like this.” Football, bloody hell, as another managerial great said after a 2-1 victory was sealed in injury time.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s most famous comeback came in Barcelona. Klopp had Barcelona on his mind, too, as the reflected on Liverpool’s extraordinary victory at Newcastle. “It was more difficult than Barcelona,” he said. Barcelona in 2019, a 4-0 hammering as Divock Origi upstaged Lionel Messi and co, without Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, may rank as both Liverpool and the Champions League’s finest fightback. But Newcastle, a game that threatened to show a shift in the balance of power between the clubs, where it looked like Liverpool were losing control and composure, could have provided snapshots of problems at Anfield. Not at the final whistle, with Newcastle shellshocked and Liverpool celebrating. “Something for the ages,” said Trent Alexander-Arnold.
More difficult than Barcelona? Klopp is no stranger to hyperbole but difficulties were abounding. A goal down, a man down for over an hour, when the red card had gone to the talismanic Virgil van Dijk, when Alexander-Arnold spent 84 minutes a foul away from a sending-off of his own. When Luis Diaz, who had started the season in stellar form, was substituted after Van Dijk’s departure. When Jarell Quansah, on loan at Bristol Rovers last season, came on for his debut to partner Joe Gomez in the heart of the defence charged with keeping out Newcastle, who scored five against Aston Villa at St James’ Park, in the final quarter of an hour. When the new defensive midfielder, Wataru Endo, in Klopp’s words “had no clue on what we actually do”. When they instead ended up with the attacking midfielders Dominik Szoboszlai and Harvey Elliott playing, in Klopp’s terminology, as the “double six”.
A late Darwin double won it for Liverpool (Owen Humphreys/PA) (PA Wire)
Perhaps it was football at its most illogical and improbable. Given how far Darwin Nunez’s star has waned, a £64m forward still contrived to rank as an unexpected hero, but he twice looked like Edinson Cavani in his prime as he bore down on goal. Nunez was clinically brilliant in a way he rarely has been in England.
Liverpool’s late rejoinder was only facilitated by Alisson, making more stops than he ever previously had in a Premier League game, making a stunning save to deny Miguel Almiron. It came at a ground where Newcastle have only suffered two defeats in 32 league games under Eddie Howe to anyone else, but now three in three against Liverpool. Part of Klopp’s rationale was that the Barcelona game was at Anfield. This was not. “In an atmosphere like this, against an opponent like this, I am pretty sure it never happened because these moments are rare and yet super special,” Klopp said.
Rare but not entirely unknown. Perhaps it is a sign of spirit, perhaps an indication Liverpool still have it, but memorable injury-time winners have been features of his reign. From Klopp breaking his glasses when celebrating Adam Lallana’s decider at Norwich to Divock Origi and Sadio Mane in Merseyside derbies, they have formed a key part in the mythology that surrounds Klopp’s Liverpool. Dejan Lovren’s decider against Borussia Dortmund was an indication that the something special was building at Anfield. Mane’s goal against Aston Villa felt huge in the 2019-20 title campaign, even if it ultimately turned into a landslide win. Alisson’s header against West Brom in 2021 was both the most improbable of all and crucial in Champions League qualification. The encouraging element for Liverpool is that goals as dramatic as Nunez’s 93rd-minute decider can lead to greater achievements; Newcastle can at least note that Fabio Carvalho’s 98th-minute winner against them last season did not prevent them finishing above Liverpool.
Darwin celebrates after scoring his second goal (Getty Images)
Now Klopp’s contribution a six-point swing was considerable. If he spent much of the first half haranguing the fourth official Craig Pawson, his other actions had a more tangible effect. Liverpool were recalibrated: from high pressing and high defensive line with 11 men to a deeper block and more of an emphasis on counter-attacking with 10, via a host of influential substitutions, culminating in Nunez’s arrival.
At the interval, he showed his players a clip of an Alexander-Arnold pass to Cody Gakpo but his contribution was part tactical, part motivational. “At half-time we said if we can turn this around it’s something we can tell our grandkids.” And, he added, he will see his soon. They can spend the international break being informed about Darwin Nunez and a comeback that felt unique even in Klopp’s career.