Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona: Simply Glorious!
I generally hate using worn out phrases, but to call a clash between Liverpool and Barcelona in a Champions League semifinal in this particular moment in time anything other than a final before the final would simply be wrong.
Barcelona arrived on Merseyside, carrying an undeserved three-goal advantage from the first leg, and that, combined with the quality they possess and the notable absences in the Liverpool team, made the task the Reds were facing a huge mountain to climb.
The news of Roberto Firmino missing out due to a muscle issue picked up around 10 days earlier and Mohamed Salah suffering a concussion in the win against Newcastle on Saturday spread like wildfire, causing numerous groans among the fanbase. The season is over for Naby Keita who was viciously taken out by Ivan Rakitić in the first leg. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was left out as a precaution because of a slight muscle strain. Klopp had very little choices upfront.
Barcelona were without winger Ousmane Dembele and centre-back Jean-Clair Todibo who were injured in their 2-0 defeat at the hands of Celta Vigo (Aspas scored), but neither of them would have been likely to start this game anyway. Having wrapped up the La Liga title, coach Ernesto Valverde was able to rest practically the whole team in that game.
The First Half
As expected, Liverpool charged forward from the start, and after a slightly worrying run from Messi which Fabinho dealt with, Mane broke down the left and involved Shaqiri who tried to square it for Henderson on the far post, but Alba was alert.
The Reds managed to spend more time in Barcelona’s half than the other way around early on, but their passing occasionally left a lot to be desired. It was clear that the visitors were playing to weather the initial storm and wait for Liverpool to run out of steam. A long pass occasionally went towards Suarez, but the former Liverpool striker found it impossible compete in the air against Matip and van Dijk.
And in the seventh minute, a mistake by Alba gave the Reds exactly what they needed. The fullback intercepted a diagonal switch and tried to head the ball back, but Mane intercepted it. Henderson took over, broke into the box and took a low shot which Ter-Stegen managed to save, but Origi ran onto it and calmly slotted in.
Another nervy moment from Barcelona almost saw the Belgian have another go at a gaping net, but Ter-Stegen was out quickly and they survived. Mane soon afterwards had a penalty shout as he entered the box and went down under contact from Roberto, but Cakir wouldn’t hear of it.
A minute later Fabinho earned cheers from the stands and a yellow card from the referee for ruthlessly taking out Suarez.
Just like much of the first leg, Liverpool dominated Barcelona. The Catalans were mostly contained to their own half, but in the 14th minute, they broke down the left and Coutihno pulled it back for the incoming Messi, and the Argentine forced a good save from Alisson.
They threatened extremely seriously three minutes later as a great ball found Alba in behind and Messi again received it, but this time the five-time Ballon d’Or winner got far too cocky and lost the ball. It was a period when Barcelona showed their quality, and Messi soon broke through the middle again and released Coutinho on the left, but Alisson was outstanding once more. Messi tried his luck from outside the box after the ensuing corner but this time he missed the target by a yard.
Barcelona were now pressing high, preventing Liverpool from playing their game. Even Messi worked relentlessly defensively, and they slowly pushed their lines forward. However, in the 22nd minute, some good hold-up play from Mane enabled him to turn and start a counterattack, which eventually ended with a blocked shot from Henderson. Mane gave Barca trouble again after a minute and this time he inadvertedly set Robertson up for a cross, but the left-back smashed it on target and forced Ter-Stegen to make a good save.
Liverpool had shaken the pressure off and the game became a proper two-way street.
Minute 27 was passing when Barcelona spent quite some time on the edge of Liverpool’s box and it looked very dangerous, but the Reds held out.
There was a scare for Valverde just before the half-hour mark as Lenglet and Alba collided, but both eventually continued playing. Then it was Henderson’s turn. The captain tried to turn on the spot near the edge of Barca’s box and get away from an opponent but he failed, and Lenglet’s studs seemed to have grazed his knee. He stayed down for a long time and required medical assistance, and Klopp had already told Wijnaldum to prepare to come on, but Henderson rose and carried on.
In the 35th minute, Henderson and Milner dispossessed Messi and the Reds burst forward through Mane. The Senegalese was brought down by Lenglet, but Cakir refused to give a foul. A big mistake by the Turkish referee.
Barcelona’s approach had changed completely towards the end of the half. They now looked to keep possession and calm the proceedings down a bit, before attempting to break through suddenly. But the Reds were responsible and very alert defensively, and they rarely allowed the visitors to have it all their own way.
Robertson was the next to go down in need of medical assistance five minutes before the break after a clash with Suarez, but like Henderson, he got up and played on.
Liverpool attacked. Shaqiri sent a great lob into the box towards Mane, but Alba managed to take it off Mane’s foot. Both Mane and Robertson had a shot blocked in the aftermath.
There were four minutes of stoppage time and Barcelona tried to push forward, but they quickly lost the ball and Fabinho won a free-kick in his own half, forcing the referee to book Busquets.
Both sides had a go late on, but first Messi shot wide from range, and then Mane won a corner at the other end. Barca defended the corner well and launched a counterattack, and Messi was able to set Alba up for a glorious chance in behind the Liverpool defence, but Alba is no Suarez. Alisson came out and stopped his effort.
The Second Half
Georginio Wijnaldum replaced Robertson at the start of the second half, which means Milner had to drop to the left-back spot.
Liverpool charged after the restart and made Barcelona defend deep again, and they came very close on the stroke of 50 minutes as van Dijk diverted a corned with a neat back-heel flick from close range on target, but Ter-Stegen reacted brilliantly and kept it out. Then Barcelona suddenly sprang alive and Messi set Suarez up in behind, and Alisson produced another great save.
Rakitić picked up a yellow card for using his arm to cut off Mane’s pass towards Shaqiri in the 53rd minute, and then he put Alba is some very hot water with a poor pass. Trent pounced, dispossessed Alba and squared it into the box for the incoming Wijnaldum, who slammed past Ter-Stegen.
A minute later, Anfield exploded as Wijnaldum leveled the overall score. It was a lovely cross by Shaqiri from the left, the Dutchman was left unmarked and he made the most of it by heading into the top corner.
The smiles had now left the faces of Barcelona players, and they knew they must do something to change their luck on the evening. But still, Liverpool weren’t going to let them play the way they wanted to.
It was time for Valverde to react, and he made the same substitution as in the first leg – Nelson Semedo came on for Coutihno, and their formation changed from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2.
But Liverpool continued attacking. Barcelona were still being pushed deep into their own half, and they defended for their lives for long spells. But in the 65th minute, they broke down the middle through Messi and Matip was forced to take the BArcelona captao out. It was a free-kick from a similar position from which Messi scored the third goal at Nou Camp, and it wasn’t looking good, but this time the shot hit the wall.
But they had won a corner and moved into advanced positions. They created a good chance for Messi but his shot from a tight angle was saved by the brilliant Alisson.
With 17 minutes to go, Vidal made way for Arthur, just before a loose pass allowed Mane to burst forward and forced Semedo into the book.
And then, in the 79th minute, the unimaginable happened. Liverpool won a corner. Trent realized that no Barcelona player was set to defend and he immediately whipped it low to the edge of six yards, from where Origi slammed it in.
AS incredible as it sounds, it was now Barcelona’s turn to chase a result. They pushed forward hard, always looking to find Messi, but the Reds again weren’t going to let them do what they want. With just under 10 minutes to go, Wijnaldum decided to humiliate the La Liga champions further as he sent a couple of opponents for Liverpool Echo.
In the 84th minute, however, Origi went down injured, and Klopp moved to reinforce his defence. Joe Gomez entered the fray.
In the very next attack, van Dijk challenged for the ball in the air with Lenglet and went down holding his head, but after receiving the necessary medical assistance he jumped up and continued playing.
As the game enetered the final three minutes, Barcelona threw everything forward and attacked with all their might. It was now Liverpool’s turn to defend for their lives, but they did it smartly. In the last of the 90, Shaqiri made way for Daniel Sturridge, while the fourth official held up the board which said “5”.
In the first of the five, Mane suddenly burst into pressing, won the ball and charged into the box. He involved Henderson who tried to return it to him, but Mane was caught offside.
Barca continued attacking, Liverpool continued defending, and Fabinho managed to win a foul in the middle of the park in the 94th minute, allowing his team to move the weight of the game away from Alisson’s goal.
And that was it.
What can we say about this game and this result? Well, only that it was fully deserved over 180 minutes.
Liverpool produced another fantastic European night at Anfield, overturned a 3-0 deficit against Barcelona, without the help of Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, and reached the second consecutive Champions League final.
Let that sink in.
WE WALK ON!