By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome Barcelona to Anfield for the second leg of the Champions League semi final.
The Catalans hold a 3-0 advantage from the first leg and the Reds will need another famous night at Anfield to progress to the final. Jurgen Klopp’s side are very much capable of scoring three goals, but a lack of any away goals scored at the Nou Camp could come back to haunt us.
Barcelona switched out their entire starting XI in their last league match, the likes of Thomas Vermaelen and Kevin-Prince Boateng made rare appearances in a 2-0 loss to Celta Vigo. Barcelona wrapped up La Liga last weekend so have the luxury of being able to afford to make these changes.
Liverpool ensured that the fight for the Premier League title went to the last day after a 3-2 win over Newcastle. Liverpool went ahead twice and were pegged back twice with Christian Atsu and Salomon Rondon cancelling out goals from Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah.
The Reds looked short of ideas after Salah went off with suspected concussion, but Divock Origi proved to be the match winner once again heading in from Xherdan Shaqiri’s excellent free kick.
Reminder of the first leg
The score line of the first leg didn’t tell the story of the match at all. Liverpool were the team on top for large periods of the game but were unable to capitalize despite creating a host of noticeable chances.
Liverpool made an excellent start to the game but where prone on the counter, it was Barcelona who opened the scoring, Jordi Alba splitting Liverpool’s defence with a ball Robertson and Alexander-Arnold would be proud of to tee up Suarez. Liverpool had chances to equalize before half time, Salah and Mané both spurning excellent opportunities to score the vital away goal.
Liverpool started the second half like they did with the first, the first 20 minutes saw the Reds’ camped in Barcelona’s half. Again, Liverpool created a multitude of chances, James Milner missing the best chance Liverpool created, shooting straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen after good work down the left-hand side.
Barcelona weathered the Liverpool storm and scored two in quick succession, Messi scored his first after Suarez’s shot bounced off the crossbar to the Argentine’s feet who had an open net to score one of his easier career goals. His next however, was one of his best finding the top corner from 30 yards after being fouled by Fabinho.
The Catalans had opportunities to put the tie beyond Liverpool with Dembele shooting straight at Alisson from the penalty box, Andy Robertson defended excellently from a counter against three Barcelona players. Liverpool had a late chance of their own, Mo Salah striking the post with ter Stegen stranded which would have made Liverpool’s unlikely task that bit easier for the second leg.
Jurgen Klopp will be without top scorer Mohamed Salah – the Egyptian went off against Newcastle with suspected concussion after a collision with Martin Dubravka. He will sit out alongside Roberto Firmino.
Alisson Becker was unfortunate to concede three in the first leg, he could do nothing with two being expertly taken and the other he was left stranded after Suarez’s shot fell to Messi after striking the crossbar.
Trent Alexander-Arnold was missed at the Nou Camp. Joe Gomez started at right back and Liverpool missed an attacking outlet from the right wing. Trent playing would be somewhat of a concern defensively, but Liverpool need at least four to stand any chance of progressing so I would expect quite an attacking line-up.
Joel Matip is expected to return after being rested against Newcastle, the Cameroonian was probably Liverpool’s best player last week and will partner Virgil van Dijk in central defence if the Dutchman is fit – he trained on his own on Monday but is said to still be in contention.
Naby Keita was injured in the first leg and it has been confirmed that the Guinean will miss two months of action. Jurgen Klopp has to make the decision of whether to use Gini Wijnaldum in the false nine role once again or start Sadio Mané up front.
If Wijnaldum does start up front, then I would think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would need to start to provide an attacking outlet from midfield, but he too missed Monday’s main session but trained individually. He’s now a doubt for this one, so James Milner could start instead. Jordan Henderson will likely sit next to Milner with Fabinho behind.
Starting up front with Wijnaldum would be Xherdan Shaqiri and Sadio Mané with two of our front three missing through injury for the first time since all three joined the club.
Barcelona rested a host of their first eleven in their last league match. Messi, Suarez and Pique were all notable omissions as they lost 2-0 to Celta Vigo. Valverde changed his side so much that an entirely different 11 played, hinting that his starting line-up will be the same as the first leg.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a couple of excellent saves in the first leg. The German was aided by poor finishing from Liverpool players which saw the Reds fail to score away the knockout stages of a European competition for the first time since a 1-0 defeat to Villarreal two years ago.
Jordi Alba was excellent in the first leg, providing a defence spitting pass to set up Suarez for the first goal. But Barcelona’s defence was quite open at the back and gave away multiple chances upon which Liverpool failed to capitalize.
The energetic midfield of Sergio Busquets, Arturo Vidal and Ivan Rakitic will start in midfield at Anfield, the versatile midfield allows interchange in the centre of the pitch but also allows Barcelona to switch to a back six, something they did in the first leg which was quite surprising.
Two ex-Reds will make their Anfield return and will face a hostile reception after events in the first leg. Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez will start alongside Lionel Messi in attack.
It’s unlikely that the Reds will progress, while the absence of Salah and Firmino makes an already difficult task even harder. However, if any club can progress against the odds in Europe it’s Liverpool.
We have had many memorable games at Anfield in Europe to inspire us. Matches that these players have been a part of – the comeback against Dortmund and comprehensive wins over Manchester City and Roma – will certainly instill belief that Liverpool are not out of the tie yet, and I think Barcelona know this.
Liverpool are capable of scoring three in quick succession against the toughest opponents, but unfortunately for us so are Barcelona. If we can score early and get the atmosphere going then we have every chance of progressing, if we do score two early on we need to manage the game from then on, not overly commit and leave us prone to counter.
Realsitically it will be hard to see the Reds’ progressing, but I’m a Liverpool fan so I think we will. There would be no point turning up if we didn’t think we can progress. Liverpool’s recent history is built on being the underdog, coming out on top against the odds.
I think Liverpool will win to create another night for the history book and another collapse in Barcelona’s history, if Roma can do it then Liverpool certainly can. I’m going for a 5-1 scoreline as I don’t think we will keep a clean sheet.
If Liverpool do go out then we can hold our hands up and recognize that the best player in the world proved to be the difference between the two club, signalling how much this Liverpool team have improved.
Predicted final score: Liverpool 5 (Mané x3, Shaqiri, Milner [pen]) – Barcelona 1 (Messi)