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Liverpool's lucky break is a good omen as it mirrors Gerard Houllier’s treble feat

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz sends off Alexis Sanchez of Inter Milan as players react during the UEFA Champions League Round Of Sixteen Leg Two match between Liverpool FC and FC Internazionale at Anfield on March 08, 2022 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Inter Milan's Lautaro Martinez celebrates scoring the winner against Liverpool: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

Jurgen Klopp

Chris BascombeTelegraph Media Group Limited

For Inter Milan 2022, read Roma 2001.

Anyone searching for omens – and wishing to draw parallels between Liverpool’s treble season under Gerard Houllier and Jurgen Klopp’s enduring quadruple effort – need look no further than Tuesday’s most uncomfortable Anfield evening.

There was a replica scene in the stadium 21 years ago. In the last 16 of the Uefa Cup, Houllier’s side travelled to Rome and won 2-0 thanks to Michael Owen. The hard work seemingly done, they were beaten 1-0 in the home leg after a curling 25-yard shot by Gianni Guigou and persevered thanks to a contentious decision by a Spanish referee.

That time it was José María García-Aranda. He awarded a penalty at the Kop end against Markus Babbel, changed his mind, sent off Roma’s Damiano Tommasi, and helped Liverpool navigate one of the trickiest hurdles in their multiple trophy quest.

Although Liverpool went on to beat Porto and Barcelona later in the competition, no European opponent threatened them so much that season.

The Roma night felt like a turning point in the treble bid.

Another Spanish official came to Liverpool’s rescue in Europe on Tuesday evening. Should they make it to the Champions League final in Paris, Klopp’s side will be eternally grateful to Antonio Mateu Lahoz, whose game-changing decision to dismiss Alexis Sanchez at Anfield enabled Liverpool to wrestle control from a classy opponent, and reach the quarter-finals for the fourth time in five years.

The more Liverpool prolong their interest in all these competitions, the more such echoes of 2001 – when Liverpool won both domestic cups as well as conquering Europe – will chime.

Now, as it was then, Liverpool’s ongoing interest in all competitions will be determined by whether there is an Anfield energy crisis.

Klopp, like Houllier, has managed to avoid it so far, with regular rotation of a squad with exceptional depth. But when considering why Liverpool were not at their swaggering best on Tuesday, their schedule cannot be ignored.

This was Liverpool’s fourth game in a fourth competition in nine days; relentless, exhilarating, enticing but – as Klopp has been willing to concede – potentially exhausting.

For the first time this season, it looked like it might take its toll.

Inter Milan did not meet the usual high-tempo Liverpool we have become accustomed to. Seeing the likes of Sanchez, Lautaro Martinez and Ivan Perisic demonstrating all the zest of a Klopp team was a reversal of the anticipated pattern. Inter were brimming with enthusiasm, their excellence able to shut down any counter-attack and regroup.

At their most stressful, Liverpool needed the game’s pivotal moment to go their way. The Spanish official obliged.

Churlish as it sounds to describe a team hitting the post three times as fortunate, there is no escaping the lucky break of the timing of Sanchez’s dismissal – Liverpool having just conceded to Martinez’s 25-yard strike.

Here was the danger Klopp spoke about – not only ahead of this tie – but whenever asked about the possibility of his team going all the way in every tournament.

For any side chasing several trophies there are going to be testing nights such as this. And without the occasional smile from the football gods, forget it. Manchester United’s treble of 1999 was full of such moments, too. Everything that can go right, must do so.

It is testimony to all the previous double or treble winners that they still prevailed amid such mental and physical examinations.

The more they kept winning, the less fatigued they felt, and – yes – occasionally, the more fortunate they seemed to be.

As it turned out, the void Champions League round-of-16 draw did not offer Liverpool the easy route to the last eight some anticipated.

“When you draw an Italian side in Europe, you do not start a party,” said Klopp.

No, but the campaign might end with one.

History, so often a weight for Klopp’s immediate predecessors, might be a powerful ally this season.

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