Pearls or peril: What awaits Barcelona at Anfield?
Background image: Andy Nugent, CC by 2.0
When the Champions League semifinal matched Liverpool and Barcelona, anticipation began. Both teams have great squads who play similar attacking football. Klopp and his men didn't panic before they visited the Camp Nou for the first-leg. Regardless, they came away licking their wounds after a 3-0 mauling.
Spanish juggernauts hurting Liverpool is nothing new. Real Madrid put them to the sword in last year's final.
The first leg has been put to bed. Now, it's time for the return tie. Lionel Messi and Barcelona look forward to finishing their work perfectly at Anfield. Liverpool will try to turn things around and pull an amazing comeback. Who has the upper hand?
The Reds need three goals and a clean sheet over 120 minutes to force penalties. Otherwise, they must win by four goals. Roma managed a 3-0 win at the Stadio Olimpico in the 2018 quarterfinal and advanced on the strength of their away goal. Liverpool have no such thing. They will need a combination of magic and luck to turn the tables. Can Jurgen Klopp replicate Rafa Benitez's Istanbul comeback on Merseyside? AC Milan had a commanding 3-0 lead at half-time but the Reds scored three in six minutes to level the scoreline and won the game on penalties. Precedent gives the Reds a chance. Not much else does.
Injuries are a major concern. Roberto Firmino has been ruled out due to a muscle injury. Mohamed Salah also was stretched off with a head injury during their 3-2 win against Newcastle but the club is hopeful he will play. The game against Toon was hard fought. Fitness will be a concern on short rest against the Blaugrana.
On the other hand, the Catalans are fresh. Valverde rested his top players against Celta Vigo while youngsters Carles Alena and Arthur Melo got the nod. Morale is high in the Barca camp. They are Spanish champions again and have the Copa del Rey final to look forward to as well as the Champions League.
That said, the Copa is treated as dessert and coffee. Valverde's focus is completely locked on the Champions League. Meanwhile, Liverpool continue to chase Manchester City for the Premier League title. Commitment, focus and mental fitness all favour Barcelona.
Liverpool can point to the reversal in Rome. So will Barca. The experience made them stronger, more ruthless. Arturo Vidal's addition adds physicality that wasn't there last season. That's why the Reds couldn't manhandle Barca at the Camp Nou.
- His 100th start as Barca captain
- The 100th game under Valverde
- Reached 600 Barca goals
- Reached 350 goals at the Camp Nou
- Goals vs Liverpool mean he's scored against every British team he's faced (8/8)
Messi at his best makes Barcelona unstoppable. His brace was a huge lift for the Catalans. Whenever the Argentine is on the ball, Klopp's defensive wall was liable to crack and crumble. The newly elected PFA Player of the Year had no answer. Virgil Van Dijk was always screaming for help whenever Messi came near.
Messi promised the Camp Nou before the season opener that everything would be done to bring the Champions League title home. That promise is almost fulfilled. Anfield won't witness anything less than Messi's ‘A’ game. Has anyone ever survived that?
Barcelona's last trips to England were successful. The Catalans defeated Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford and ripped Spurs apart 4-2 earlier this season. Travel's stress doesn't affect them. Further back, Barca's last visit to Anfield was a victory although Liverpool won the tie on away goals after a 2-1 win at the Camp Nou during the 2006/07 tournament.
Luiz Suarez and Philippe Coutinho are both familiar with Anfield. The former played a major role in the first-leg win. The latter needs to atone after being lifted early in the second half. Suarez celebrated his goal against his former team which will surely put the Kop on his heels. They'll pressure Coutinho as well, hoping for another uninspired performance. Regardless, expect the best from both.
Klopp is left with a difficult task of staging a dramatic comeback against Barca. The Catalans are boss when it comes to turning things around, ask PSG. Scoring at least four goals without their top striker, Firmino is a tall task. Is it pearls or perils that await Barca at Anfield? I think you already have your answer.