The curse of Diego Forlan struck Anfield once again last night as the Reds were left heartbroken after crashing out of the Europa League at the semi-final stage, leaving us with nothing to show from what has been a season full of disappointment.
A close range effort from the former United player in the 102nd minute sent Liverpool out of the competition, ending Liverpool's hopes of any sort of success for our efforts this season.
It was a crushing result that left all inside Anfiled gutted, however the supporters can be proud of our team's effort as the players worked tirelessly in search of that precious place in the final of the Europa League.
Rafa Benitez sent out an attacking team, which included Aquilani,Gerrard, Kuyt, Benayoun and Babel, in an attempt to secure the goals needed to fire us to Hamburg. Macherano reverted to right back, with Johnson converting to the left side of the defence and Agger replacing Kyrgiakos alongside Carragher at the heart of the Reds back four.
Liverpool started with a high tempo, managing to gain more corner kicks in the first few minutes then they had during the whole of the first leg. After only 10 seconds had been played Liverpool went close to claiming a crucial lead. Agger's long punt up field was flicked on by Kuyt into the path of Yossi Benayoun, who was running into space in the penalty area. The Israeli tested De Gea in the Madrid goal with a good effort from a tight angle.
Liverpool had dominated the opening exchanges, and were well on top, but the away side came back into the game as the half progressed, with Raul Garcia firing in a fantastic strike from 25 yards out that bounced in front of Reina forcing our world class keeper into a terrific save.
After that, Liverpool had a stunning passage of play which left Anfield breathless. It was simply sensational stuff from Liverpool which definitely deserved a goal. Lucas played a pass from deep that Aquilani let run through his legs to the feet of Dirk Kuyt. The Dutchman played a five yard pass to Gerrard, who then exchanged one-two's with both Aquilani and Kuyt before spreading the ball out to Mascherano, who was in acres of space on the right.
The Argentina captain got to the ball quickly, then centred the ball across the front of the goal. Dirk Kuyt stretched and got his left foot onto it however the ball flew just over the crossbar. It was the best move of the night, and one that proves the quality that Liverpool's first 11 possesses. It was delightful football to watch that left Liverpool fans confident that their team could power into the final with ease.
Liverpool thought they had broke the deadlock on half an hour as Agger headed home from Gerrard's free kick, however the goal was correctly ruled out for offside as the Dane was in an offside position when the ball was sent into the box.
With two minutes of the half remaining the Merseysiders did take the lead as Aquilani scored a wonderful goal that will stay with him forever. After a difficult and immensely frustrating season for the Italian, he will be delighted to have scored such a massive goal last night, and must be desperate to experience more electric European nights at the home of football, Anfield.
Mascherano threw the ball down the right hand channel and Benayoun ran onto the ball before crossing into the middle of the 18 yard box. His cross was met by Aquilani who sent an excellent shot into the bottom right hand corner.
It was a magnificent goal that sent us into the break full of optimism and crucial confidence. However, it was the Spanish side who started the second half the better, as they came into the game more and put the home side under spells of pressure, without really testing Pepe Reina in the Liverpool net.
A minute into the half Simao shot into the Kop from the edge of the box, before Assuncao followed suit as he blazed over the bar after a poor clearance from Johnson had presented the away side with an opportunity.
Midway through the second half Steven Gerrad's firm strike was well held by the 19 year old Athletico Madrid keeper David de Gea after Aquilani had found the skipper with an intelligent pass.
On 70 minutes Liverpool displayed their counter-attacking abilites as we went close to grabbing a vital second. Gerrard made a critical clearance with his feet as the strike from an Athletico player looked destined to nestle in the net. The ball travelled to Benayoun on the edge of the box, who played a short pass to Aquilani.
Aquilani spread play out to Kuyt on the left, then Kuyt cut inside before sqauring the ball to Benayoun. The tricky winger decided that he couldn't thread a pass back to Kuyt to set him through on goal, so he attempted to score himself. Unfortunately his curled effort went high into the Anfield Road end.
As time was running out Glen Johnson nearly sent the crowd into delirium as he went close to doubling the Reds lead. The England right back adapted well to playing at left back and managed to keep Jose Antonio Reyes quiet for the majoriy of the match whilst retaining an attacking threat. Unfortunately he was at fault for Forlan's all important away goal, however he should be pleased with the rest of his performance.
Johnson cut in from the left wing, using his right foot to break through two Athletico defenders before shooting at goal from all of 20 yards. It required a good save from the keeper to prevent the ball bursting the net.
With the scored locked at 1-1 on aggregate the teams went into half an hour of extra time with everything to gain, and everything to lose. It was a season defining 30 minutes for Liverpool and, once again, we fell short at the crucial stage.
It all started so well as the Reds scored a second after only four minutes of extra time had been played. Lucas received the ball 20 yards from goal after a scramble for possession on the edge of the box. The Brazilian displayed the flair that is so often associated with his homeland as he chipped a beautiful pass into the path of Yossi Benayoun, who had found space on the left hand side of the 18 yard box. Yossi fired past the keeper from a difficult angle to give us a vital second goal.
It was a fantastic goal however my celebrations were somewhat muted as the fact remained that a single away goal for Athletico Madrid would send us crashing out of European competiton. Athletico were centimetres away from scoring that vital goal after 100 minutes as Juardo sent a scintilating strike just wide of the right hand post.
Only two minutes later Diego Forlan popped up to score the all important away goal to send Liverpool out of Europe. A long ball was played up the field where Reyes crucially beat Johnson in the air. It was a fatal mistake from Johnson as Reyes exploited the space behind the make-shift left back by dinking an inviting ball to Diego Forlan, who was left unmarked at the back post. Forlan smashed home an emphatic strike to break Liverpool hearts.
Forlan is famous for his goals at Anfield as, although he was undoudtedly a flop at Old Trafford, he earned cult hero status amongst United supporters as he scored a fifth of his goals at Anfield. 2 of his 10 goals for the Mancs came against Liverpool, and he scored in both legs of this semi-final. He truly is a thorn in Liverpool's side. Let's just hope we never meet him again.
Liverpool battled and fought until the end but, as Reina said afterwards, "the tank was empty" as Liverpool had already given all they had to give. It was an incredibly disappointing night for Liverpool, and one which left all people associated with this great club absolutely gutted. However, the supporters can be proud of the effort that the lads put in last night, and the commitment to the cause shown by all the players.
I must end this post by saying how magnificent the Liverpool supporters were last night. They created an electric atmosphere, and showed what it means to be a Reds supporters by encouraging and backing the team throughout the whole 120 minutes. The Kop even found time to applaud Fulham's tremendous efforts in getting to the final of this competition as the news came through before extra time had begun. It epitomised the Liverpool Way of respect for the achievements of opposition teams, and complete support for the team and the manager throughout. I was proud to be a Red last night after a wonderful performance not only from the team, but also from our outstanding supporters.