Liverpool v Barcelona Preview: Key Battles to watch out for as Reds face uphill task
There’s no Bobby Firmino. There’s no Mo Salah. That’s 2/3rds of a strike force that has struck fear in the hearts of defenders across Europe. Now, to add to that, there is the small matter of also having to achieve one of the most incredible Champions League results ever, if Liverpool are to make a second final in succession.
Anfield has had many famous European nights in an illustrious history. If Liverpool are to miraculously achieve the seemingly impossible on Tuesday night, it will be a night unlike any that Anfield has ever had, you can stick your neck out on that one.
Yes, it was always going to be tough. Irrespective of the opposition, you rarely overturn 3-0 deficits. Now, the Reds have to do without two of their best players, and a metronomic midfield player in Naby Keita, who was having his best phase of the season before pulling up at the Nou Camp.
And you just add that little Argentine fella into the mix, and it gets a whole lot more complicated. To keep it simple, Liverpool need to be perfect. And hope for some luck, and Catalan imperfection to surface and form a perfect cocktail. How does it happen? Here are some key individual battles to watch out for.
FABINHO v LIONEL MESSI
Only on paper does Messi start on the right wing. In reality, he’s almost always in the centre, in that uncomfortable space between the lines. For a large part at the Nou Camp, Fabinho was doing well against him. Then, Messi got a lucky rebound that he dispatched, and then won a free-kick off the Brazilian, and dispatched the dead-ball, too, with a stroke of genius.
That’s why it’s so tough against Messi. He does things with the football very few others ever have done, and what most players can only dream of doing. He’s so unpredictable, he’s still got a fabulous turn of pace, he’s brilliant in wriggling out of tight spaces, he can pick impossible angles to pass the ball. How do you stop him?
Fabinho might want to be a little braver than he was at certain situations in Barcelona. Instead of backing off Messi, he might be better suited in going for the tackle, and crunching his man. Far too often, the Reds afforded Messi a little too much respect.
Well, he deserves all the respect he gets. It’d be ludicrous otherwise. He’s the best in the world, the best there ever has been, and the small task of keeping him quiet, will be Fabinho’s responsibility.
Especially in the absence of Salah and Firmino, Robertson will have to bomb forward as one of the chief creators, so Fabinho’s role as the defensive shield is vital.
SADIO MANE v NELSON SEMEDO
Barcelona are most likely to start with Semedo at right-back, having given that position to Sergi Roberto last week. Roberto is a very good footballer, but he was hugely troubled by the pace and trickery of Mane, something that the Portuguese is a lot better in dealing with.
While Semedo is the quicker and more athletic out of Barca’s two options, he comes up against Mane in the best season of his life. In the absence of the other two, there’s pressure on Mane. There’s the burden of carrying the Reds’ attack. There’s the expectation on the Senegalese to step up and write his name in folklore.
It will be important that Mane and Robertson pen Barca back on the Liverpool left flank, and open up space for the others in other spaces of the pitch. The Reds will no doubt want to be on the front-foot, and for that to happen, Mane has got to step up his game. His finishing needs to be a lot better, too, than it was at the Nou Camp.
VIRGIL VAN DIJK v LUIS SUAREZ
Ah, after all the times he drove us crazy last week, Luis Suarez now comes back to Anfield. There are mixed emotions, but he still remains a hugely loved figure, given his sheer impact when he was at Liverpool.
That goal Suarez scored in Barcelona just summed up the kind of threat he offers. He was on the periphery for most of the footballing aspect of the game – he was well in the limelight for the other antics, which is just second nature to him, and something that Liverpool fans are used to, more than most others.
But, that goal, that singular moment. It’s not something that you can defend against. You can blame Van Dijk or Matip for not following his run, but the Uruguayan’s awareness and instinct enables him to make sharp movements in a flash, and he makes them when defenders expect that the least.
Van Dijk didn’t have the greatest of games at Barcelona, but his quality remains undoubted. Can Anfield’s current darling impose himself on a former favourite son?