Barca: Suarez 26’, Messi 75’ 82’
Merseyside Reds: N/A
Jurgen Klopp rolled the dice a bit with this line-up. Joe Gomez makes his first start in any competition since December, coming in for Trent Alexander-Arnold at right back. Moreover, Roberto Firmino starts on the bench, replaced by Naby Keita. It’s possible the Reds are going to run out more of a 4-4-2 diamond than their preferred 4-3-3 that we’ve seen in recent weeks. Either way, a big call from the boss. The rest of the back four and the front three are as expected, with Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum, and James Milner (naturally!) rounding out the rest of the midfield.
The goal is simple enough today: make sure we’re still in it when we take it back to Anfield next week. An away goal is key, and a scored draw (or better) would put us in a really good position to advance to the final.
Early controversy as a Sadio Mane penalty claim isn’t given. It looks like the Senegalese is brought down in box, but also might have been a shade offside (which wasn’t given either, incidentally). Moments later Barca have their own penalty appeal, where it appears as if both Messi and Matip handle in the box. It’s a tense opening 15. Liverpool’s press is mostly doing the business in the middle of the park, but both sides look dangerous when they break.
It looks like Liverpool will have to make an early change after a nasty challenge on Keita, resulting in an apparent groin injury. The Guinean tried to play through the pain, but eventually has to come off. He’s replaced by captain Jordan Henderson. Goal. Moments later Luis Suarez slips past Matip with a perfectly timed run, slotting it with a perfect first-time finish. Welp, we’re in a fight now.
It’s a good response from the visitors, with Gomez and Mane crafting Liverpool’s best chance just about 10 minutes after conceding. Mane was through on goal, but couldn’t get the first-time shot on target.
At halftime Liverpool are actually out-shooting the home side, but have yet to register a shot on target. They look a little uncomfortable with the change in formation, a plan that was no doubt made more difficult to execute with the loss of Keita. However, Robertson and Mane have had free rein down the left side, so hopefully those lads can make that space count for something in the second half.
James Milner, of all players, forces Barcelona’s first save of the match—and what a save it is! Ter Stegen was at full stretch to deny the vice captain. Anyway, good start to the half, and more of that, please!
Liverpool started the second half well enough, but Barca appear to be trying to dogshit their way to a 1-0 for the rest of the half. And so far it’s definitely working. Salah and Milner each force another save from the keeper; more play like this should, theoretically, lead to something resembling a goal at some point. Theoretically.
Goal. Now we really need an away goal. There’s bad luck, and then there’s a rebound off the post falling perfectly to Messi in front of goal. There was only ever going to be one result.
Klopp responds, probably a bit too late, by bringing Firmino on for Wijnaldum. Things look as if they might get worse. Fabinho picks up a (long overdue yellow) AND gives a foul away in a very dangerous position. ...And Messi punishes us with a thunderbolt into the top corner. Absolutely nothing Becker could do about that. You simply won’t see a better free kick.
Moments later Barcelona clear Firmino’s shot off the line, and Salah follows up by rattling one off the post. One of those nights, it seems. Klopp makes one last roll of the dice, brining Divock Origi on for Milner.
Hard to imagine a worse result coming into tonight. Not only did we lose 3-0, but we also lost Naby, probably for the rest of the campaign (which is looking likely to be three more matches, not four). On one hand, the scoreline flatters Barcelona, but on the other, fantastic finishes by Suarez and Messi on the first and third.