The 3-0 defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final first leg was a night full of anguish and disappointment for Liverpool. It was a very hard pill to swallow.
When Lionel Messi curled his free-kick into the top corner, you could feel Liverpool’s entire season slip away. But although it was difficult to digest, Jürgen Klopp and the boys can take a lot of positives away from the game. Even though the score suggests otherwise.
It was clear to anyone watching that Liverpool were fighting toe to toe with arguably Europe’s best team. The mighty Barcelona have dominated La Liga for the past decade and have won the Champions League three times during that period.
Liverpool Fear No One
The Merseyside club entered the match without fear. They didn’t fear the temple that is the Camp Nou, they didn’t fear the serial winners against them and they didn’t fear the greatest player of all time – Lionel Messi.
For a period, you couldn’t tell which side had been regulars in the business end of this competition and which side was participating in their first back-to-back Champions League campaign for the first time in 10 years.
Golden opportunities fell to the likes of Sadio Mané, James Milner, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. Opportunities that nine times out of 10 they bury. But sadly Wednesday night happened to be that 1 out of 10 where they all regrettably miss their opportunities.
Liverpool came out of the half-time break flying. Men on a mission – a mission to prove they belong amongst Europe’s elite. But in the end, Barcelona had the rub of the green that Liverpool didn’t.
A possible penalty not given or even reviewed. A few questionable fouls or lack thereof. A crazy sequence of events that resulted in the ball landing right at the feet of Messi for the second goal with an open net. Finally, the ball being moved a few yards forward for Messi’s free kick. All that went against Liverpool. Bad luck after bad luck after bad luck.
Learning From Mistakes
Although it wasn’t all out of Liverpool’s hands, Klopp probably got his team selection wrong. Firmino’s injury forced him to make some changes but Georginio Wijnaldum as the false nine was definitely the wrong decision.
The makeshift forward really hindered a lot of Liverpool’s attacking play. His first touch was wayward, he slowed down our play and never picked out the right passes. Hindsight is a beautiful thing but maybe starting a more quick and mobile Naby Keïta or moving Sadio Mané central and starting Divock Origi on the left, would have worked much better.
This also brings up the question of squad depth. Last year in the final an injury to Salah meant that Klopp had to turn to Adam Lallana, which is a huge gap in quality.
Fast forward a year later and an injury to Firmino means Wijnaldum is put up front. For the second year in a row, an injury to one of the front three and a lack of quality alternatives may have cost Liverpool.
Klopp needs to find a player, who when needed, can replace any of Mané, Firmino or Salah and still provide the quality needed. Depay maybe?
But something that was out of Klopp’s hand was Keïta’s injury. Up until that point, the midfielder was probably the best player on the pitch. His exit was a massive blow and essentially threw out our game plan with just a quarter of an hour on the clock.
Another selection under question is the inclusion of Joe Gomez which left some scratching their heads. The plan was clear to see.
Gomez offered more defensive stability than Trent Alexander-Arnold but maybe a Champions League semi-final against Barca wasn’t the best time to give Gomez his first start since early December. Without Alexander-Arnold Liverpool missed one of their main offensive outlets.
But Liverpool shouldn’t be too disappointed after that. The 3-0 scoreline massively flattered Barcelona. They weren’t bad by any means but Liverpool were much better and really had them worried. Especially during a solid 25-minute spell in the second half.
Nothing Is Impossible
Wednesday night proved that Liverpool are well and truly back amongst Europe’s best.
They frustrated Barcelona at the Camp Nou like no one else and give the home side a proper run for their money. They couldn’t string two passes together and keep possession for a period in the game and, apart from his goals, kept Messi relatively quiet for the most part.
Unfortunately, it just wasn’t Liverpool’s night. It just wasn’t meant to be sadly.
It’ll take a gargantuan effort from Liverpool to overturn this at Anfield but we’ve seen crazier things happen in football before. Hell, we’ve seen crazier things happen with Liverpool before.
All Liverpool can do right now is keep their heads up, take away the positives, learn from their mistakes and move on. At the end of the day Liverpool went up against one of the best teams in the world – the mighty Barcelona. And only thing that separated the two sides was a little magical Argentinian lad named Lio.