As a general rule of thumb, pissing off the greatest player to ever put on a pair of boots while said player is still in a position to punish you on the pitch is generally not the soundest of footballing strategies.
Liverpool’s Andy Robertson chose to ignore that conventional wisdom, irreverently shoving the patron saint of football, Lionel Messi in the back of the head after the Barcelona star went down complaining under a Fabinho challenge in the first minute of Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal.
Andy Robertson letting Lionel Messi know he's in for a game at Anfield pic.twitter.com/Anl4mkNh8e— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 7, 2019
Unsporting, maybe. Nevertheless, the clash set the tone for the rest of the combative match dominated by the Reds, serving to remind the Catalans that they weren’t in genteel Spain anymore.
Just as telling, however, was Messi’s response to the initial confrontation, with the cameras catching the Argentinian retaliating against the Liverpool defender with a shove of his own at the next opportunity, an event that went largely unnoticed.
Lionel Messi.— DANNYƎL (@DannyelRMCF) May 8, 2019
Some call him "the greatest ever". The guy that is always let down by his Argentina teammates.
Here are some close-ups on his first half vs Liverpool. All i see is a guy that isn't really that bothered about what is going on on the field. This is a leader or GOAT? pic.twitter.com/GFK7cjHGEM
However, the rest of the video summarized how the Barcelona talisman spent the rest of the evening: standing around watching his team get counterpressed to oblivion, absorbing robust challenges from the likes of Fabinho, Roberston and James Milner and generally striking a rightly frustrated figure.
And it is this remarkable job Jürgen Klopp and his squad did in marking the all-time great out of the game that has largely gone unnoticed amongst the Reds other heroics on the night. For despite putting a free kick on a postage stamp and poaching a rebound in a first leg brace to set the stage for a historic Liverpool comeback, the hidden story of the tie was the extent to which the Reds effectively neutralized the world’s best scorer/dribbler/passer/free kick taker across the two legs.
While even the most confident of supporters would have readily chosen the easiest possible route to the Champions League final that avoided the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich at the start of the campaign, the fact that this Liverpool squad have so comprehensively vanquished two of the biggest sides in world football will fill them with confidence as the June 1 first final approaches.