In a thrilling night of football, Barcelona smashed Liverpool 3-0 in the Champions League semi-final.
The win gives the Blaugrana an enormous advantage heading into next week’s second-leg at Anfield. What did we learn?
1. Messi 600
There s so much greatness surrounding Leo Messi and he showed it so spectacularly against Liverpool that it’s honestly impossible to speak about him in anything other than big, emphatic statements that point out how amazing he is.
Against Liverpool, Messi had to spend 93 of 95 minutes playing in a side that had precious little pace. In fact only the two full-backs were capable of moving at more than snail’s pace. Yet he repeatedly carved chances out of almost nothing.
When Liverpool were at the height of their second half ascendancy, he slipped such a ridiculous pass in to Sergi Roberto that it was easy for him to slide the ball sideways for a Luis Suárez tap-in. Except Suárez hit the bar. But who was on-hand to walk it in? Leo Messi. 2-0.
Suddenly the game was calm. Liverpool were absolutely shattered and Barcelona began to dominate. They deserved a third, and Leo Messi delivered it in spectacular fashion, launching home a 35-yard free-kick straight into the top corner. Launching is the word because he struck the ball as though he aimed to curl the ball, yet it flew off his foot as though he had thwacked it. Alisson, one of the world’s best goalkeepers, was absolutely helpless as he dove across his goal to try and stop it going in.
9 vs. Arsenal
6 vs. Man City
4 vs. Man Utd
3 vs. Chelsea
2 vs. Spurs
2 vs. Liverpool
It must be exhausting scoring so many goals against these English teams. 🐐 pic.twitter.com/YIvP9uV2Df
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 1, 2019
That was Messi’s 600th career club goal in just 683 games. It was his 8th direct free-kick of the season (more than Liverpool and Manchester City combined). It was also his 26th goal against the Premier League “big six” sides. 26! And he’s never even played in England! And he could, probably should, have had a hat-trick of assists on the night as well with some amazing passes to create sitters for Arturo Vidal, Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembélé – only they all missed!
This man is ridiculous. The greatest of all-time, without a doubt.
2. Missing: Everything But The Goal
Liverpool came to the Camp Nou and played absolutely superbly. No caveats. Well alright one caveat. Their finishing and choice of final pass was often poor. Sure they pulled a couple of good saves out of Marc-André Ter Stegen and had a shot cleared off the line, followed up by Mohamed Salah missing the side’s second sitter of the night (Sadio Mané missed their first).
It must have been frustrating for Jurgen Klopp because by and large the German got his tactics spot-on. He gambled that Barcelona weren’t going to have the pace to hurt them in behind so rather than sit back his side pushed up. They pressed hard and exploited the space around the full-backs; in particular they attacked Arturo Vidal and Sergi Roberto knowing that they wouldn’t be able to handle them.
Alright his substitutions could have been braver, in particular he should have brought Trent Alexander-Arnold off the bench around the hour mark, but Liverpool were genuinely brilliant at the Camp Nou. Alright they got hosed in the end because they didn’t finish well and came up against the best spine in world football (Leo Messi, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Piqué and Marc-André Ter Stegen) but there are so many positives ahead of the second leg for the Reds.
3. Classic Coutinho and Classic Suárez
Barcelona’s two ex-Liverpool players had contrasting fortunes on a night where they also both put in displays that can be described as “classic them.” Coutinho started brighter, linking well with team-mates and making bright runs in behind. Then predictably he ran out of puff after half an hour and was then sleepwalking, ruining counter-attacks so blatantly that the Camp Nou was openly whistling him, until Ernesto Valverde put him out of his misery by subbing him on the hour.
Luis Suárez, meanwhile, played just as badly as Coutinho in many ways. But unlike the Brazilian, the Uruguayan was constantly running around in the first-half, hustling and harrying the Liverpool defenders as well as, y’know, being kind of a jerk. He ruined countless attacks because his limited athletic ability wouldn’t allow him to keep up and in the second half he didn’t even have the energy to press well.
But as always, he ended up coming up big for Barça. With just 26 minutes on the clock, Suárez made sizzlingly sharp run in behind Joel Matip and added a sensational guided finish past Alisson. A huge goal that defined the rest of the game, as it gave the Blaugrana a key advantage. That’s why he plays, even when he looks useless, because he can do that.
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4. The best left-backs in the world
Coming into this game, there was a genuine competition between two players who don’t always get appreciated as often as they should do: the left-backs. Jordi Alba and Andrew Robertson. These are undoubtedly the two best in their position in world football and they put on and absolute clinic at the Camp Nou.
Robertson was all-action. A constant outlet in attack, completing 2/4 crosses from open play and adding another from a free-kick. And in defence he was sensational, Barcelona found him an impassable wall who protected his flank with dogged determination, completing 4/7 tackles. He didn’t stop all night long.
On the opposite flank, Jordi Alba was just as ceaseless. He wasn’t quite as involved in the duels, but he was always there to knick the ball away from Mohamed Salah (who was quite good) and prevent him from truly getting into space. And in attack? That’s where he did the business. His three key passes were the most on the field and it was his gorgeous low cross that bent around the Liverpool defence and created the opening goal for Luis Suárez. That was his 15th assist of the season.
No player has recorded more assists in this season's #UCL than Jordi Alba (5).
Level with Kylian Mbappé at the top. 🎨 https://t.co/rWVLqLqTez
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 1, 2019
Who is better? Does it matter? Enjoy both men because it’s rare you see two left-backs playing at such an absurdly high level whilst also being key parts of their side’s attacks.
5. Valverde didn’t learn his lesson from Roma
When you read out Ernesto Valverde’s accomplishments: consecutive Liga titles in his first two seasons, one Copa del Rey and another final on the way and the fact that he’s lost just three league games in damn-near two seasons… any criticism of him seems daft. Obviously the style isn’t what Barcelona fans would like, perhaps, but it hasn’t cost the side right?
Last year Barcelona were on course for a Champions League semi-final against Liverpool having beaten Roma 4-1 at home. They went away to Rome and lost 3-0. 3-0! How did that happen? Well Roma pushed up high and pressed them like no tomorrow. It was a ruthless display that most teams don’t try because when you push up as high as Roma did, any pass in behind to a quick player can kill you.
But that’s the thing: Barcelona didn’t have any pace in attack. Ernesto Valverde left the pacy Ousmane Dembélé on the bench and relied on Luis Suárez to lead the break, which he was physically incapable of doing. Roma kept on coming, Barça couldn’t get out, hey presto 3-0.
You would think such a chastening defeat would force a manager to confront his errors, wouldn’t you? Well, not Ernesto Valverde. Tonight against Liverpool he set his Barcelona side out with absolutely no pace. And for the first half this worked out alright as the players all had enough stamina to dominate, but in the second half Liverpool were incredibly dominant, pushing high and leaving acres of space in behind just as Roma did. Yet did Valverde sub on Ousmane Dembélé? He did, but only with two minutes left in injury time.
Yet in that two minutes, that “garbage time” – Dembélé’s pace led him to have three chances. Three! He should have certainly scored at least one, maybe two. Will Valverde notice that? Not likely. Now alright, Barcelona won the game 3-0 because Leo Messi is a super genius, but Liverpool should take heed from Roma’s remuntada last season. They too are three goals down and it’s pretty clear that Ernesto Valverde hasn’t learned his lesson from Roma. In the cauldron of Anfield with no pace in attack, don’t be surprised to see Barça swallowed whole.