LA REVOLUCIÓN ESTÁ EN LAS MENTES

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Mohamed Salah no está en el once inicial, pero sí en Anfield Road. Se pasea por el campo de juego encapuchado, con una sonrisa y la campera abierta para que se aprecie con claridad la leyenda inscripta en su remera: «Never give up» («Nunca se rindan»). Son los minutos previos al pitazo inicial. Mientras tanto, en los vestuarios, Jurgen Klopp alienta a sus dirigidos. A los que le quedaron, porque además de Salah, tampoco estarán Roberto Firmino y Naby Keita. Parece, lógicamente, un contratiempo que sumado al 3-0 sufrido en Camp Nou resultará fatál, pero el entrenador alemán de 51 años sabe transformar las cosas. Desde que llegó al mítico Anfield, logró reavivar el fuego sagrado de un gigante dormido. Las gradas, semana a semana, observan a un equipo comprometido con la causa y decidido a luchar por títulos. Entonces, esta vez, Klopp intentará sacar provecho de situaciones límites. Tiene casi todo en contra, sí, pero esa adversidad le simplificará su plan de partido. Su equipo deberá, como siempre, presionar al rival. Pero deberá extremar esa propuesta para que las emociones comiencen a dominar las mentes. Propias y ajenas.

Un inicio a todo ritmo muestra soldados reds enchufados al máximo para lograr asfixiar a Lionel Messi y compañía. Los riesgos están claros. Son inevitables. Barcelona logra salir con frecuencia del asedio y rematar hacia el arco custodiado por Alisson Becker. Pero esta vez, a diferencia de lo ocurrido en Camp Nou, los disparos no llevarán destino de red. Otro punto que los locales, saben, deben aprovechar. Y de hecho, lo hacen: Jordi Alba se equivoca y Liverpool, al igual que su rival en la Ida, no falla; no perdona. Divock Origi sella el 1-0 y la primera parte del trabajo -la más importante, a fin de cuentas- está hecha. Klopp y compañía ya están metidos en la mente del Barcelona, que confirma sus temores: no habrá, en la noche inglesa, momento alguno en el que se pueda dejar de lado la tensión competitiva que amerita una semifinal de Champions League.

Otros disparos de Messi y Luis Suárez que no mueven el marcador. Liverpool también recalcula su partido: está más cerca que antes, pero un gol blaugrana lo aleja más que al principio. Jordan Henderson cae lesionado y Georginio Wijnaldum se prepara para ingresar al terreno de juego. Pero el capitán se levanta y anda. En esa pausa, Liverpool piensa: por más necesario que sea, será difícil mantener aquel ritmo. Aunque Joel Matip y Virgil Van Dijk se vuelven dominantes desde el anticipo, la amenaza culé también hace su parte en el juego mental. Por eso los de Klopp matizan su propuesta inicial. Combinan presiones y repliegues para regular sus condiciones físicas. Al Barca aquello lo confunde: creerá haber domado a la bestia, pero en realidad, todo forma parte de la estrategia Red. Aminorar la marcha para volver a la carga cuando todos menos se lo esperen. Al descanso, Ernesto Valverde y los suyos, sacarán la conclusión de que sólo habrá que resistir 45 minutos más, y estarán, después de cinco años, en donde más lo desean.

En el vestuario local, Liverpool pierde otro activo importante: el físico de Andrew Robertson dice basta. Klopp decide, una vez más, extremar su propuesta. Pudo ser el turno de Joe Gómez -titular en la ida- pero esta vez sí: es el turno de Wijnaldum. El volante neerlandés tendrá la misión de apurar los pases visitantes en salida para volver a dominar la pulseada, y también la de rellenar el área para acompañar a Origi. Por su parte, James Milner, comodín eterno, esta vez va al lateral izquierdo, con perfil cambiado. Barcelona siempre ha buscado finalizar sus ataques en el sector opuesto, por lo que habrá allí otra aproximación hacia la búsqueda por arrinconar al rival. El trámite vuelve a parecerse al del arranque, y al del segundo tiempo en Camp Nou: Liverpool manda, impone condiciones. Barcelona no puede salir. Quiere, pero no sabe cómo. Con un gol se saca esa mochila y esos nervios, pero el arco rival le queda demasiado lejos.

Alexander-Arnold se equivoca e Iván Rakitic toma la pelota, pero la reacción del inglés y de sus compañeros es instintiva: asfixian al croata, que cede mal a un Jordi Alba también apurado por la presión. Arnold esta vez no se equivoca: el centro es perfecto, al corazón del área. Wijnaldum cumple con lo solicitado por Klopp. Las cosas ya están 2-0 y lo que el Barca quería negar se vuelve obvio: el temor a perderlo todo se apoderó la mente propia, mientras en la ajena, todo es confianza ciega. Los culés están groguis y ni siquiera alcanzan a defender la siguiente embestida: desde el sector opuesto, otro gran centro es conectado por el recién ingresado Wijnaldum. La resistencia, que debía durar 45 minutos, no superó el cuarto de hora.

Una vez más, Liverpool recalculó. Ahora la serie está igualada. El trabajo está hecho, la epopeya lograda; pero un gol visitante echa por tierra todo el trabajo realizado hasta el momento. El asedio se vuelve discontinuo porque el gigante catalán, herido en su orgullo, también busca recuperar la compostura y responder a tantos golpes. Pero de nuevo, no sabe cómo. Un resúmen de la temporada blaugrana: apenas Messi puede inventarse algo cuando el contexto no es favorable. En el banco, sin Ousmane Dembele, las variantes no parecen ser ganadoras. Tal es así que el portugués Nelson Semedo reemplaza a Philippe Coutinho -de flojo partido- para entrar a defender el lateral derecho. La otra carta, que aún no llega a ser un as, es la de Arthur Melo: el brasileño sí que a lo largo del año ha sabido dotar de funcionamiento a los suyos, pero apenas salta al campo ve cómo todo se termina por derrumbar. Alexander-Arnold, el desfachatado lateral que con 20 años ya aspira a dominar Europa, percibe que su rival ha bajado la guardia en una jugada cuasi amateur. No duda y envía el centro al área, para que Origi, el que comenzó la remontada, también la cierre. La reacción de Ter Stegen y toda la defensa es tardía. Y también sirve para confirmar que desde aquel primer gol, la mente del F.C. Barcelona no estuvo a la altura de las circunstancias. Quedos impropios de etapas decisivas, sumados a una gran incapacidad para gestionar la inferioridad en el trámite. Esta vez no hubo efectividad ni genio que venciera a la razón. Esta vez, Jurgen Klopp esbozará una sonrisa, pero será genuina y no para ocultar su decepción. Saludará a arbitros y rivales; abrazará a los suyos. Y estará feliz de que a pesar de tantos contratiempos, de tanta táctica y estrategia, su máquina haya entendido lo importante de mantener, siempre y hasta el final, la fortaleza mental. Porque en el fútbol, como reza la remera de Salah, nunca hay que rendirse.

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1994. Si no rueda una pelota me siento incompleto. Cuando sea grande diré que vi jugar a Messi. Disfruto de leer y escribir.

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