Messi and co. host Klopp's side this evening at the Camp Nou in the Champions League semi-final first leg. Here's how the sides line-up.
Barcelona host Liverpool in the Champions League semi-finals at Camp Nou on Wednesday night (kick-off at 21:00 CEST) with a significant advantage over the visiting Premier League title-chasers: Ernesto Valverde’s side have already wrapped up the Liga championship and the Barça boss has been able to rest players regularly over the past few weeks in order to have his squad in peak condition for the run-in. That was the primary cause, as stated by Luis Suárez and other players last season, for the collapse in Rome: too many games in the legs and not enough of a domestic advantage to pick and choose battles in LaLiga.
That will not be a problem when the game kicks off but Barça’s defensive frailties this season – most recently laid bare when Valverde’s side scored four at Villarreal but still did not win the game – will be put to the test by one of Europe’s most formidable forward lines, who warmed up for Wednesday by putting five past Huddersfield at the weekend.
Jürgen Klopp cannot afford himself the same luxuries as Valverde and Mo Salah played the full 90 at the weekend, but the Liverpool boss should be able to call on Roberto Firmino to compete the fantastic three up front with the in-form Sadio Mané perhaps the visitors’ chief threat.
Most Liverpool fans would prefer to win the domestic title for the first time in almost three decades over the Champions League; even younger Reds fans can remember “that night in Istanbul but few under the age of 35 will have memories of Ronnie Whelan hoisting the first division trophy aloft in 1990. Klopp therefore faces a balancing act, even if the destination of the Premier League title is effectively out of his hands whereas European glory remains entirely in Liverpool’s grasp.
Barcelona team vs Liverpool (confirmed)
Starting XI: Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Piqué, Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Arturo Vidal; Messi, Luis Suárez, Coutinho.
So Arturo Vidal starts in place of Arthur while Sergi Roberto gets the nod over Semedo.
Barcelona bench: Cillessen, Semedo, Arthur, Dembélé, Malcom, Umtiti and Aleñá.
Liverpool team vs Barcelona (confirmed)
Starting XI: Alisson, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Fabinho, Milner, Wijnaldum, Keita, Mané, Salah.
Firmino, who has been an injury doubt all along misses out in the end, and Henderson too doesn't start.
Liverpool bench: Mignolet, Lovren, Firmino, Henderson, Shaqiri, Origi and Alexander-Arnold.
Barcelona vs Liverpool: injuries and suspensions
Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah are expected to be fit to start for the visitors, the Brazilian having sat out the victory over Huddersfield last weekend and the Egyptian being wrapped in cotton wool after a slight knock in that game. Klopp has few injury concerns but it remains to be seen if Fabinho starts in midfield with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain available again after injury. Joe Gomez is also back after a lengthy lay-off but will probably have to make do with a place on the bench.
Barcelona have a full-strength squad with only long-term absentee Rafinha unavailable for the opening leg. Valverde’s only real selection issues are whether to start Arthur in midfield or look to the more aggressive stylings of Arturo Vidal, and who of Philippe Coutinho or Ousmane Dembélé to play on the left of the front three alongside Luis Suárez and Leo Messi.
Barcelona vs Liverpool: what the managers said
Ernesto Valverde: “We’re playing at home and our intention is to win the game. We know that it is important to prevent them from scoring but Liverpool have the ability to overrun you at times and they often succeed. I imagine that’s what they’ll try and do.”
Jürgen Klopp: “I heard people saying it's not the Barcelona of [the past], come on, really! Analyse them once, it's a really, really good football team with a lot of quality, confidence of course being champions since a few days, probably cup winner in Spain. So it's a big team, but we are on the way to come closer, that's how it is. How close we are, I have no clue. We will see that. We are all looking forward to it and that's the most important thing.”