Jordan Henderson believes the return of Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho to Anfield tonight is an indication of how far Liverpool have progressed in recent years.
The Barcelona pair will contest their first club game at Anfield since leaving the Reds for Camp Nou in 2014 and 2018 respectively.
The fact this comes in a Champions League semi-final represents a marker of the club’s development, Henderson feels.
And while the captain considers Suarez and Coutinho ‘good friends’, he insists all sentiment will be put to one side as Liverpool aim to overturn a three-goal deficit from last week’s first leg.
He wrote in his column for the official matchday programme: “We face a big challenge tonight but it’s one we’re all looking forward to. Our fans are smart and streetwise enough to know the scale of what we’re trying to do this evening. We’re facing one of the best club sides of all time and we have a big deficit to overcome.
“You should never make promises in football about the outcome or the result, but I can guarantee that whichever 11 players take to the pitch in red we are going out there to give everything and try to achieve as much as we can.
“We’re not just playing for pride – that’s not enough for Liverpool – we’re playing to win and make the final. Whether we can do it or not, we’ll find out at full-time, but we owe it to the fans to make sure until the final whistle goes, we never stop.
“By the time kick-off comes around tonight, enough will have been said and written about the first leg in Spain, so I don’t need to go over that again. Regardless, it’s done with now and the only game we can affect is the next one and that’s tonight.
“There’s no room for sentiment in football and particularly in contests that mean as much as this one, but it will be great to see Luis Suarez and Phil Coutinho back at Anfield. I have no idea if either will start the game or not, but they’ll be with our visitors and I’m sure for them the emotion of coming back here will be strong, especially as it’s the first time both of them will have played here against Liverpool since leaving the club.
“Luis and Phil are friends as well as ex-teammates. Personally speaking, I learned a lot from both when I was lucky enough to share a dressing room with them. Clearly both are very different personalities on the pitch, but both are winners and two of the best footballers on the planet.
“Off the pitch they are actually very similar. Family is everything to them and their partners and children are some of the best people you could ever wish to meet. But on the pitch they have something in common: both are world class.
“When a player decides they want to go and do something else I can understand why the supporters of the club that they’re leaving might feel a little disappointed, and as a teammate I was disappointed when both left. But I think we can all respect that people have their own lives to live and their own decisions to make.
“I can only speak for myself, of course, but I feel really appreciative of what both did for this club when they were here because both gave their all when they pulled on our shirt to try and make us as successful as possible.
“Every minute they were on a pitch representing Liverpool they wanted nothing else but for us to win and be successful. To be clear, there is no friendship on either side when the match starts tonight, as there was no friendship in the first leg. That’s put on hold. They want to beat us with all they have and, likewise, we want to beat them.
“Despite being good friends, I hope both are devastated when the game finishes because we are through and they are out. But beyond the game itself I really do hope Luis and Phil can take a moment to stop and appreciate being back at a club they did so much to help when they played here.
“In a funny way, seeing both back at Anfield tonight in Barca shirts sums up where we are as a club in this moment and the progress we are making. We face them as opponents in a Champions League semi-final. It proves that when players leave a club it’s critical that you build on their legacy and keep moving forward.
“This team and this club is moving in the right direction and we are now at a point where world-class players see this place as a destination. You arrive at this point thanks to the hard work and dedication of many different types of people. Luis and Phil played their part in that along with many others.
“Hopefully they’ll leave remembering why Anfield is so special, but not because they’ll leave with a Barca win. They’ll see a club that is back at Europe’s top table and one that hopefully has another big chapter to come in this season’s story.”
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