The real reason why Liverpool can still have hope despite three-goal Atalanta deficit

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The Reds head into the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final with a mountain to climb.

“If we fail, then let’s fail in the most beautiful way.” These are the words of Jurgen Klopp, teetering on the edge, as his Liverpool side prepare to travel to Italy in the faint hope of overturning a three-goal deficit against Atalanta in the Europa League on Thursday evening. It is a message that he has evoked before.

Five years ago, teetering on the edge, the German steeled his side in the faint hope of overturning a three-goal against Barcelona in the Champions League on a Tuesday evening at Anfield. It felt like an impossible task; it proved not to be. From early openers to corners taken quickly, Liverpool rallied in imperious fashion against one of the grandest teams in world football and booked their place in the final of a competition that they would win for a sixth time. Even if they had failed that night, they would have failed in a beautiful way.

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By contrast, there was nothing alluring about the limp, fetid display that the Reds put in against Atalanta seven days ago. Despite having more shots, more possession, more corners, more hope, Klopp’s men posed all the threat of sugar glass, and by the 83rd minute found themselves 3-0 behind courtesy of a Gianluca Scamacca brace and a Mario Pašalić sucker-punch.

If any other club found themselves in this position, you would tempted to write them off wholeheartedly. Liverpool, however, have history with this kind of thing. Most recently, of course, there was that famed act of escapology against Barcelona - the one that made a cult hero of Divock Origi and fashioned an iconic catchphrase from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s swift wits.

But there have been others besides. Even within the confines of Klopp’s tenure, there was the breathless seesawing victory over Borussia Dortmund back in 2016, during which Liverpool, having drawn the first leg 1-1 in Germany, had to come from 3-1 down on aggregate and rely on a Dejan Lovren stoppage time winner to sneak their way into a Europa League semi-final.

And then, of course, there is the most revered comeback of them all - a plot twist so wild and improbable that it made the name ‘Istanbul’ synonymous with any kind of wondrous recovery. At half-time in the 2005 Champions League final, Liverpool found themselves 3-0 down to Italian giants AC Milan; a Steven Gerrard masterclass and penalty shootout (complete with Jerzy Dudek’s jelly-legged antics a mile off his goal line) later, and Gerard Houlier’s side had their hands on the trophy. Then again, you already know all of that. Such is the legend of that night in Turkey.

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Naturally, none of this has any direct bearing on how Liverpool will perform in Italy on Thursday evening, or whether they will be able to cap off Klopp’s farewell tour with anything other than a Carabao Cup to their name. But it does illustrate a certain inextinguishable belief, a sort of intangible magic, that surrounds the Reds on these big continental occasions. Beneath the twinkle of the floodlights and the pressure of a dire situation, they find a way, somehow, more than most. What Klopp wouldn’t give for just one last miracle.

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