Liverpool couldn't pull it out in the end, but in what was ultimately a losing effort, the strong praise of their performance was more than fitting.
"We're very proud of the club and the players tonight. Even though we lost the tie, tonight the football club and the players showed why they're part of the world's greatest football family here at Liverpool with the atmosphere and what the players put into the game.
"To have to come back from a three-goal deficit and put that effort, quality and character into the game was absolutely phenomenal - and I felt we should have had a penalty as well. I don't think the players could have done anymore. The crowd could not have done anymore. It was a fantastic night, but unfortunately we probably lost the tie over there. At this level to have to score that many goals and for us to nearly do it, gives me great pride in how the players performed."
--Brendan Rodgers' post-match comments
Liverpool Official Website
Brendan Rodgers loves to talk. He'll talk about tactics, he'll talk about his players, he'll talk about his family, and he'll talk about talking. He looks comfortable doing so, and seems to brighten in front of a crowd. He didn't shy away from the cameras in Being: Liverpool, which lent itself to criticism that he's not yet lived down, and took the opportunity to hold open forums with Liverpool bloggers and fansites. Just to talk. With his mouth, with his hands, with his face, whatever.
At various points this season, though, we've all expressed frustration with Brendan Rodgers' tendency to talk. Few and far between are the mundane and workmanlike performances, instead commended as fantastic and brilliant regardless of the result. For many this hearkened back to the days of Roy Hodgson and famous results and etcetera, too far a departure from the brevity and prickliness that had become so commonplace during Kenny Dalglish's season and a half second stint as Liverpool manager. Even his expressions of disappointment have been deemed too harsh or misguided, and it's mostly to the point now that the cringing's begun before the talking.
But last night, the cringing and whinging would have been misplaced, as there were few superlatives that would have been inappropriate in describing Liverpool's performance and the scope of what they very nearly accomplished. I recognize that nearly accomplishing something isn't the same as actually accomplishing it, and by that standard there aren't really any superlatives needed. Zenit won the tie, Liverpool lost it, and that's the only real standard of measurement for something that's become so very serious.
The problem with that is that it's just not any fun. Neither is losing, of course, but Liverpool's display and the nearlyness of last night was. Quite a bit, actually. It was disappointing and unpredictable and wild and a bit too far-fetched--ultimately too far so--to be believed. But from the moment Jamie Carragher let Hulk in on goal, there wasn't much analysis or number-citing or predicting left. There was just Liverpool, Anfield, and the world's greatest football family hoping against hope that it could be done.
Which is crazy, because the Europa League doesn't matter and shouldn't inspire moments like the ones Luis Suarez and most of the Liverpool squad provided on Thursday night. But it did. And the response shouldn't have been so strong, because the odds were terrible and nobody cool actually cares--they analyze. But it was. Scroll through the matchday thread and its explosions during and after the moments Liverpool scored. Loosely tethered to reality, completely insane, and exactly what this whole thing is about.
Liverpool are out of a second-rate competition because they couldn't ultimately right the same wrongs they've been committing all season. That sucks. There's no promise that everything gets better from here or that Brendan Rodgers and his squad will finally put it all together on a consistent basis. That also sucks. But last night didn't. It was phenomenal, it was fantastic, and there wasn't much more to be done by anyone. And all that was done is most certainly deserving of great pride.
So for once, the superlatives fit.