Exclusive: Andy Robertson charts Liverpool's road to Madrid - From despair in Belgrade to euphoria against Barcelona

Chris Bascombe
Andy Robertson has a word with Luis Suarez - Getty Images Europe

It has been a European run of theatrics, pyrotechnics and comebacks for Liverpool. Andy Robertson met Telegraph Sport’s Chris Bascombe to explain how Jurgen Klopp’s side navigated their course to Madrid.

Group C

Matchday One - Liverpool 3 PSG 2, September 18, 2018

In the archetypal group of death, opening night was more worthy of a semi-final.

“The perfect game for us after the disappointment of losing the final last season,” says Robertson.

“We were going in against one of the favourites, it was another big Anfield night and it made it an easy transition to get over what happened in May.

“PSG looked like real contenders, a team you could see were capable of going the whole way. They had the players, they had the quality. Trent (Alexander-Arnold) and I had been working on how to deal with the running of Mbappe and Neymar, but when Mbappe came inside he showed his quality for their goal.

“But this was a big win for us, not just in the context of a tough group, but because we proved the previous season was no fluke. We could beat the best teams. Bobby (Firmino) coming off the bench to score the winner gave us the perfect start.”

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Matchday Two - Napoli 1 Liverpool 0, October 3, 2018

Carlo Ancelotti had a point to prove to Liverpool having been overlooked when Jurgen Klopp was appointed in 2015. Lorenzo Insigne's 90th-minute winner condemned Klopp’s side to defeat after an insipid performance.

“Massively disappointing. The worst performance of the season,” says Robertson.

Many would argue with Robertson. The performance at Red Star Belgrade later in the group seemed much worse at the time.

“In terms of result, maybe people think that, but in Naples I thought we were slightly worse,” insists Robertson. 

“For whatever reason we never got going at all. It looked like we were going to be lucky and get away with a 0-0 and then they scored late on. We put two of our worse performances in this group stage. Not the best.”

Lorenzo Insigne scores for Napoli Credit: getty images

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Matchday 3 - Liverpool 4 Red Star Belgrade 0, October 24, 2018

The Serbians were banned from bringing travelling fans to Anfield and – in a move of solidarity – none of their players bothered to turn up, either. Liverpool eased to victory as their famed front three terrorised the defence.

“We saw this as a potential banana skin in the context of the group,” says Robertson.

“We knew beforehand we were probably in a three-way battle for the qualifying places and the way it was turning out if we did not get a result here no-one would have been able to have any complaints if we did not qualify. Scoring early set the tone and we blew them away. We wanted to take that momentum into the away game...”

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Matchday 4 - Red Star Belgrade 2 Liverpool 0, November 6, 2018

The first question to Robertson is, ‘What happened?’ The second question is, ‘No, seriously, what happened?’ This was an aberration, not only in the season but Klopp’s entire reign.

“We actually started quite well and had some big chances,” he recalls.

“If we had put one away it might have been a different night. Then we conceded from a set-piece and a 40-yard ‘worldy’. It was a massive disappointment and given the results between Naples and PSG, at that stage a lot of people were thinking our Champions League run was over. We never saw it that way. We just felt it was an off night when we did not play to our full potential. There was a lot of talk about the atmosphere. I had prepared for much worse, to be honest. Their fans were good and loud but, thankfully, the defeat was not defining.”

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Matchday 5 - PSG 2 Liverpool 1, November 28, 2018

Neymar had already displayed his less endearing qualities at Anfield and went into overdrive in Paris as Liverpool succumbed.

“One hundred per cent there was a bit going on,” says Robertson.

“Neymar is a fantastic player, quality in abundance, but the ease he was going down - some of the fouls he was getting - was frustrating. The referee was buying it.

“At home we had a strong referee but you could see over there if the players acted up a bit their fans would get behind them.”

Despite the loss, Robertson took encouragement from the host’s euphoric celebrations at full-time, Neymar having struck the winner.

“Their reaction at the end showed they knew they had beaten a very good team,” he says.

“They had to play their top level to beat us and were defending deep at the end. We didn’t play badly at all, it was that our final ball let us down. We controlled large parts of the game. They thought they would go much further in the competition. It didn’t work out that way...”

PSG went overboard with their celebrations after narrowly beating Liverpool in the group stages Credit: afp

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Matchday 6 - Liverpool 1 Napoli 0, December 11, 2018

Liverpool were on the brink of elimination as the knockout stage effectively arrived a game early. As expected, Anfield and its team responded to adversity, Mohamed Salah with the winner. 

“We knew what we had to do. Either keep a clean sheet or win by two goals,” says Robertson.

“Knowing it was not just about winning the game made it more complicated so it was a massive Anfield night. We knew Napoli were a good side but we produced. 

“Mo’s goal was special to set the tone for the night and then Ali (Alisson) pulls off that crucial save late on. If Napoli score then we would not have scored two goals. Game over.”

Should Liverpool win in Madrid, there will have been few more important Anfield saves. 

“Fair play to the big man. People talk about Spurs sneaking through but don’t forget we were through by the skin of our teeth, too.” 

Round of 16, first leg

Liverpool 0 Bayern Munich 0, February 19, 2019

Bayern Munich’s players dressed up like The Beatles, spoke reverentially about Anfield and played a cautious game. They were either canny or terrified.

“I didn’t see any of their comments before the game but alongside Real Madrid last season they are the most experienced team we have faced in Europe,” says Robertson.

“You went through their side and you saw players at a good age, who have come through everything at the highest level. They came to Anfield, wanted to kill the game and stop us having a fast start and they achieved that. There was some frustration not to be taking a lead over there, but at the same tie we felt 0-0 was not a bad result. A clean sheet is massive and we knew they would not be allowed by their own fans to play the same way in Munich.”

Round of 16, second leg

Bayern Munich 1 Liverpool 3, March 13, 2019 

After a comprehensive victory, Klopp was more ecstatic than usual, eulogising over his players and declaring Liverpool 'are really back'.

For Robertson, this was a night were Liverpool stepped up a level in Europe.

“I would go far to say it was the biggest performance of our Champions League season because we really showed again we could go far,” he says.

“We knew it was going to be a completely different game to Anfield because they had to be more expansive and that suited us. 

“I think what the manager meant by his comments is he saw the respect that had been shown to us by an experienced, quality side. He knows it is not how Bayern usually approach games. You mentioned fear earlier, but it is not the right word. I think it was a case of Bayern seeing what we were capable of and having to respect that. Over 90 minutes – over the whole tie - it was really good.” 

Virgil van Dijk climbs highest to head home for Liverpool Credit: getty images

Quarter-final, first leg

Liverpool 2 Porto 0, April 9, 2019

With so much attention on Manchester City versus Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool's serene progress into the semi-final seemed to go under the radar beyond Merseyside. There was an expectation of comfortable victory, which was met.

“The way we looked at it is if we played at 100 per cent Porto would not be able to deal with us,” says Robertson.

“That was how it worked out. It is not that we did not have to think about Porto’s qualities – we are drilled never to underestimate any side – but it is more about knowing what we are capable of. We were comfortable in the first leg and managed the game very well so we knew it was going to be very difficult for them in the return leg.”

Quarter-final, second leg

Porto 1 Liverpool 4, April 17, 2019

By the second leg, Liverpool’s biggest problem was managing the demands of the title climax while retaining European ambitions, especially as it was obvious a meeting with Barcelona was on the horizon.

“When we got into the knockout round we heard some people had said it might not be the worst thing to go out so we could focus on the Premier League. We could not get our heads around that,” says Robertson.

“It is the biggest club competition in world football and we want to win it as much as the Premier League. We are in this position now because of the winning mentality.

“In Porto the first 20 minutes were actually a bit nervy. There was never a sense of panic but as soon as the VAR gave us a bit of help with Sadio’s goal we were in control and pretty comfortable in the tie.”

Sadio Mane puts Liverpool in front against Porto Credit: ap

Semi-final, first leg

Barcelona 3 Liverpool 0, May 1, 2019

It was arguably Liverpool’s best away performance of the season. It was certainly the most depressing defeat.

“When we walked into the changing rooms it was strange,” says Robertson.

“We would have won most games how we played that night. We knew we had played well. We knew we had created chances. We had dominated in the Nou Camp in a way few teams do and it just felt like they had the rub of the green. Honestly, we still believed it was not over.

“I said, ‘Look we have them at Anfield next week’. I believed we would win at home. Whether I thought we would by enough to get us through was yet to be seen. But all the lads echoed that. We knew we would cause them problems. The biggest worry was keeping a clean sheet.”

Semi-final, second leg

Liverpool 4 Barcelona 0, May 7, 2019

If football is about winning your personal battles, Robertson never shirked his against Luis Suarez.

“Suarez is Suarez. The Liverpool fans know him more than most. He is never going to change. Part of me respects that,” says the Scot.

“Everyone who has worked with him say he is a winner and he will do anything to win. But we want to be winners too. We didn’t rise to his antics and laughed it off in the end. You can’t prepare for it until you come face to face with it. Anyone who thought he was going to be any different because he was playing against Liverpool was daft in my opinion.”

But did Barcelona disrespect or underestimate Liverpool as they succumbed to Divock Origi and Gini Wijnaldum’s goal?

“Only they can answer how they felt. We knew what had happened to them in Rome last season and expected them to learn their lesson. Lionel Messi had promised them the Champions League. I don’t think they disrespected us. We just made it very uncomfortable for them on the night. Our fans added to that. Barcelona could not get away from that feeling inside them that they had lost momentum in the game.”

Suffice to say, there were no shirt swaps.

"I don't swap shirts and I don't think Messi would have given me his!" says Robertson.

Andy Robertson gets inside Lionel Messi's head Credit: action images

And so to the final...

“There were a few tears after the Barcelona game because of what it meant. Not me, though. I don’t get emotional,” says Robertson.

“It was a whirlwind game and obviously I had to come off at half-time so my mind was all over the place because of the injury. 

“There is no doubt getting to Madrid helped the fans get over the massive disappointment of missing out on the Premier League. The fans appreciated our efforts regardless and it was easier to send us off with a few ‘see you in Madrid’ songs. We could not do any more. Unfortunately, we came up against one of the best teams (Man City) that has ever played in the Premier League. Now we want to end the season on a high.”