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On Crushing Defeats at the Nou Camp and Fairness in Football

Liverpool losing 3-0 to Barcelona wasn’t a fair result. Now, somehow, they have to pick themselves up again.

Barcelona v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: First Leg Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Sometimes, football isn’t fair. Sometimes, you don’t get what you deserve. Jürgen Klopp touched on that following Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of Barcelona at the Camp Nou last night, a scoreline that looked lopsided at the end of a match that very much wasn’t. So it goes.

The Liverpool manager said he was “happy with the performance,” that his “boys played a super game,” and shrugged. “Football is like this.” So it is, sometimes. Not that knowing that makes the result easier to take, not when Liverpool deserved more than they got last night—or seem likely to get this season.

Play it out ten times and a 3-0 Barcelona victory probably wouldn’t happen again if the Reds performed the way they did last night. It’s a result that looks as unlikely as 1-3 to Liverpool would have had Mané, Milner, and Salah scored to counter Messi’s unstoppable free kick—while Suarez failed to make clean contact on the opener and the rebound for Messi’s open play goal fell less kindly.

That’s what the expected goals numbers said following the match, at least, suggesting that while Barcelona were better than Liverpool, it was only by about a goal on the evening when it came to the chances each side created and that a 2-1 or 3-2 scoreline would have been the fair result based on the run of play.

Which would have been a scoreline that better lined up with the game Liverpool fans all thought they had been watching. A scoreline that probably would have lined up with the game Klopp thought he was watching. A scoreline that would have given Liverpool a great deal of hope heading into a second leg at Anfield.

From a season-long standpoint, too, it wasn’t a final scoreline that makes a great deal of sense. This season, Understat has Barcelona scoring a little more than seven goals more than expected and conceding eight fewer while Liverpool have scored a little less than eight goals more than expected and conceded seven fewer.

That’s as expected from two sides where they are in Europe’s two top leagues on current performance metrics. It’s as expected from two sides that have reached the semi final stage of the Champions League. Both are good finishers and good defensively—and both are over-performing the averages at a similar rate.

Which just makes it worse, really, from a Liverpool perspective. Because Liverpool played well and, based on how they played, should really be heading back to Anfield a goal down but with one or two away goals to show for it and the tie, statistically, something like a 50:50 chance to advance to the final.

Those were the odds set out by 538 heading into Wednesday evening at the Camp Nou, and if the game had ended in a manner that reflected the play on the pitch and that lined up with how each group of players has performed across the season, that’s probably where we would be today.

Instead, Liverpool are down three goals and with no away goal to show for a very, very good performance at the Camp Nou. Instead, Liverpool are all but out of Europe. That hurts. That makes it worse. That, in a season where 97 points probably wouldn’t win them the title, feels a little like the universe being against Liverpool.

It would have been one thing to lose as they did if they’d played a poor game. If Klopp had gotten his tactics disastrously wrong or if players had made major individual errors. Or if it had simply looked like, in the end, Liverpool were outclassed—congratulations on making it this far, but now you’ve been found out.

That would have been disappointing, but at least it would have felt, well, fair. Losing this badly—and without even an away goal—while playing as well as Liverpool did feels like something else. It feels like a fitting bow to put on a season where Liverpool have played so well and gotten so far and will likely get nothing to show for it.

Liverpool played Barcelona not far off equal at the Nou Camp and are all but out of Europe. They’ve gone toe-to-toe with Manchester City and are likely to miss out on breaking a near thirty year title drought while recording the third highest points total in Premier League history. Such is football sometimes. Such is life.

Somehow, the team must respond from it, pick themselves up and find a way to be angry about it all rather than dejected, and then they must take out that anger on Newcastle. And then wait. And hope. For Leicester, who play City on Monday. For a second leg at Anfield. It feels bleak right now, but give it a few days. Who knows.

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