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Merciless Messi too much for Liverpool in Barcelona

Pantomime villain Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi proved too much for Liverpool in the first leg of their semi-final bout.

The Barcelona pair gave the Catalan club a 3-0 stranglehold in the semi-final first leg in Spain.

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Goals

Suarez 25′ (Alba)

Messi 75′

Messi 82′

Cagey, open first 45

Jürgen Klopp made three changes to the side that ran out 5-0 winners over Huddersfield at the weekend. James Milner and Joel Matip came back in after a rest, replacing Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren, respectively.

Georginio Wijnaldum and Joe Gomez were two surprises in a somewhat patchwork starting XI, with Wijnaldum deputizing for the recently injured Roberto Firmino while Gomez replaced Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back.

After a bright start from the Reds, Barcelona fired the first warning shot through Ivan Rakitic on three minutes.

The Croatian would have been clear in if not for intervention from Joel Matip.

Sadio Mané had an early penalty shout waved without much protest after Gerard Pique toppled over him in the box.

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A frantic sequence on 12 minutes culminated with Andrew Robertson making a step just ahead of Lionel Messi following a cutback from Jordi Alba.

As Messi regained control, the ball appeared to ramp up Joel Matip’s leg and onto his arm. A VAR review washed away any penalty appeals.

The visitors were dealt a serious blow as Naby Keita was forced off with an apparent groin injury. Jordan Henderson was summoned to take his place after a few minutes of medical attention.

The hosts found a breakthrough on 25 minutes through former Red Luis Suarez. Alba slung a perfectly timed cross behind the Liverpool line for the Uruguayan to run onto. His outstretched leg got a touch to the ball just ahead of Alisson to give Barcelona the advantage.

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Mane had a golden chance to equalize shortly after the half-hour mark following a stunning cross from Henderson.

Unfortunately he couldn’t get a solid connection on the skipping ball and he skied his effort well over the bar.

Both sides continued to probe in the first 45 but neither could find a breakthrough moment. Tempers began to boil over, however, in a precursor to a fiery second half.

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Relentless pressure, no reward

The Reds started the second half brightly. James Milner drew a strong save from Mark-Andre ter Stegen in the opening minutes.

Mohamed Salah, who’d seen countless efforts blocked in the first half, drew another fine save from the German keeper.

The Egyptian collected following a broken play in the box and fizzed a low effort that ter Stegen palmed wide.

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Liverpool had done well to keep Messi quiet for the first hour but he seemed to suddenly come alive.

The Argentine picked out Arturo Vidal in the box on 62 minutes in what should have been a clear cut chance.

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The Argentine had his moment on 75 minutes after Suarez hit the bar. He latched onto the rebound and calmly dispatched it into an empty net to make it 2-0.

Firmino made a cameo appearance on 77 minutes in place of Wijnaldum as the Reds chased a valuable away goal.

But it wasn’t to be. A moment of absolute magic from Messi put the tie to bed shortly after the 80-minute mark. The Argentine curled a venomous free-kick effort into the top right corner of Alisson’s goal.

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The ensuing passage of play summed up Liverpool’s fortunes on the evening. Firmino had an effort cleared off the line before Salah contrived to hit the post from a matter of yards out. Henderson then followed up with a header over the bar.

Ousmane Dembele and Carlos Alena came on in the dying embers as Ernesto Valverde’s men secured a 3-0 lead.

Liverpool may be in danger of losing out on their Champions League aspirations but their home record suggests they could muster some magic in the Anfield tie.

Liverpool

Alisson, Robertson, van Dijk, Matip, Gomez, Keita (Henderson 24′), Fabinho, Milner (Origi 84′), Wijnaldum (Firmino 77′), Mane, Salah

Subs: Mignolet, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Shaqiri

Barcelona

Ter Stegen, Alba, Lenglet, Pique, Roberto, Vidal, Busquets, Rakitic, Coutinho (Semedo 60′), Suarez, Messi

Subs: Cillessen, Umtiti, Arthur, Malcom

Alex Mansfield
Co-owner, editor-in-chief of LFC Transfer Room. @el_mansfield on Twitter. Love a good, civilized debate!

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