Barcelona have the game’s best ever player leading their attack tonight, and with Lionel Messi given support by Luis Suarez they have one of the most dangerous forward lines in Europe. Liverpool, though, don’t look too bad in that department, either.
They may not have an individual to match Messi—nobody does, after all—but between Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, and Roberto Firmino they have a complete attacking unit that on its game might just measure up to the one that calls the Camp Nou home.
“They’re very strong, extraordinary up front, they press and play with a very high rhythm and pace,” was Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde’s take on the challenge his side will face tonight in trying to stop one of the best attacks in Europe.
For Barcelona, the biggest problem might be the wait. The wait for Liverpool to read a misplaced pass or lapse in concentration and to then turn on the press, not just for a moment or a movement but for ten or fifteen solid, draining minutes.
This, as Valverde sees it, is what the Reds do under Jürgen Klopp. They may not start out with a high press—though they did on the weekend against Huddersfield and scored a goal 15 seconds in thanks to it—but it will come. Sooner or later it will come.
Staying mentally sharp and prepared for when it inevitably does is a unique challenge for a team, especially one that doesn’t want to simply sit back and absorb pressure but will be expected to attack and press the issue themselves for long stretches.
“You can’t make any mistakes, you can’t switch off,” Valverde said. “They’re a team that can surge and in fifteen minutes they will try to overwhelm you. It’s not so much physical as psychological. You have to be concentrated, ready for when it happens.
“You have to have an answer, a response to their capacity to push you back towards your goal. You have to be able to overcome that pressure they put on you. They also have the experience of having played in a game with the importance of last year’s final.”
Not that Barcelona are overmatched underdogs here, of course. They’ve won La Liga. They have Lionel Messi and a supporting cast that would all walk into most other sides. But in a game of closely matched opponents, it will be the margins that win it.
Liverpool, at some point, will surge as a team, trying to score a goal or two or even three in a sustained, frenetic, organised burst of pressure and energy. Stopping that will matter as much to Barcelona’s chances as what they do the rest of the match.
“It’s not just the front three,” Valverde added. “They have a collective model that feeds them—they press high, push the defence up, try to rob the ball off you in your half and give it to them, giving them the space to do you damage.
“They are a very good team. They’re a fearful opponent in many ways. We will have to play very well.”