By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
Liverpool have it all to do to reach the final of the UEFA Champions League as they fell 3-0 to Barcelona in the first leg semi final tie at Camp Nou.
An old face came back to haunt the Reds as Luis Suarez notched the opening goal of the game after splitting the Liverpool defence. The Uruguayan then had a part to play in the second goal as Lionel Messi tapped in from close range, before ripping the net with a goal of the season contender for the third.
A minor injury to Roberto Firmino saw Jürgen Klopp have to tweak his regular front three lineup, with Naby Keita joining Mohamed Salah and Mané in attack. Apart from the change in attack, Klopp also made four more changes to his lineup.
Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, James Milner and Fabinho all picked up starts, with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dejan Lovren, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge being left out after seeing action against Huddersfield on Friday night.
The opening exchanges saw both sides going toe-to-toe with each other, both attacking with pace and defending in packs. Despite all the attacking flair on show, the main battles were being fought in the middle of the park, as both sets of midfielders worked hard to breakup and set up attacks.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, the 22nd minute saw the end of the game for Keita, after the Guinean was forced off with an injury, being replaced by Henderson. The number eight has already had his fair share of injuries in a Liverpool kit, and has recently seen himself go through a purple patch in form.
Things only went from bad to worse after Suarez put the hosts in the lead.
A brilliant defence splitting ball along the ground by Jordan Alba found the Uruguayan darting in behind Liverpool’s centre backs and alone in front of Alisson. Liverpool’s former number seven took the shot first time, slotting it past the advancing Alisson and into the net.
A familiar celebration followed, as ‘El Pistolero’ wheeled away to the adoration of the home supporters. After 26 minutes, Barcelona had the lead.
After taking the lead, Barcelona looked to increase the pressure on Liverpool but the Red defence held out well, allowing Klopp’s side to claw themselves back into the game and slowly rack up their possession.
As the half drew to a close, the game began to get scrappy with tackles flying in and confrontations happening between players – especially Suarez.
Despite the increasingly hostile atmosphere, the Reds were able to hold out until half time, limiting the score to 1-0 at the interval.
The second half got off to a more promising side for the visitors, as the Reds quickly tested ter Stegen twice in quick succession through Milner and Salah.
As the half went on Liverpool began to turn up the temperature on Barcelona, pinning the Spanish Champions back into their penalty area as they pinged the ball around the sturdy defence.
Despite the increased pressure, Liverpool couldn’t find a way through the Barcelona rearguard and found themselves 2-0 down after a rapid counterattack.
Messi picked the ball up and that’s where the danger began as he slipped through Sergi Roberto on goal. A tackle by Andy Robertson saw the ball fall to Suarez who knee’d it towards goal.
With Alisson beaten, a breath of relief was taken as the ball cannoned off the crossbar.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, the lose ball fell into the path of Messi who took a touch before dispatching into the empty net and giving the hosts clear breathing space in the tie.
It only went from bad to worse for the visitors as Messi stunned all in attendance with a world class third goal.
A foul on the Argentine saw Messi put the ball down outside the area as he prepared to test Alisson from range. A swift swing of his left boot saw the ball bend round the wall before arrowing into the top corner leaving the Brazilian keeper flapping in mid air. Klopp smiled in sheer disbelief as Messi demonstrated why many believe he is the best in the world.
Liverpool’s attention now turns to a Saturday night visit to St James’ Park, when they take on Newcastle and former manager Rafa Benitez. The Reds will look to put pressure yet again on Manchester City at the top of the Premier League as the current champions won’t feature until Monday.