Carragher: "Leo Messi is the best I have ever played against"
Former Liverpool captain and club legend Jamie Carragher sat down with AS to preview tonight's mouth-watering Champions League clash with Barça.
Former Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher knows all about big European nights like this evening's - when his old club will take on Barcelona at Camp Nou. Carra sat down with AS to give his thoughts on how he sees tonight's Champions League semi-final going.
Is the current Liverpool side different to the one which lost last year's final to Real Madrid?
Yes, it is different; it's more mature and more determined. Last season, they tried to have the game won in 20 or 30 minutes and if they didn't do that, they'd suffer. Now they are better prepared and used to waiting for that decisive goal because they are convinced it will come and they know that they can beat anyone. Obviously, they're much better in defence now. It's a more solid team, maybe not quite as exhilarating to watch or with the lightning speed last year's team had but I'd say now they're a team which plays more with their heads than with their hearts.
Liverpool control their games better now
Klopp has molded the team into title challengers but what else has helped to give Liverpool more maturity?
I didn't really believe that he would be able to build a team so far detached from that heavy metal, high-pressing and exciting side - one that would play end-to-end football. You can't win the league or the Champions League playing with that style of football. He has been slowly building and fine-tuning areas like we did under Rafa Benítez, improving a little every day. I know they've spent a lot of money bringing in Van Dijk and Alisson, but underneath it all, he is a coach who thinks about the process of making the team stronger and learning. He spent seven years at his last club and he'll be with Liverpool for a long time. He's not a chequebook manager.
Klopp has won all nine of Liverpool's European cup ties. He's created a perfect cup team.
The European ties record is fantastic: he's taken them to two finals. But you have to remember the power of Anfield on European nights - it's not all down to Klopp. There is a fear about visiting Anfield, maybe it's only a myth, but people expect magical things to happen on big Champions League nights. In Europe, we've seen some incredible nights but beating Barcelona in a semi-final would be the best.
You played in the 2007 Last 16 tie in which Arbeloa had the task of keeping Messi quiet...
Yes, I was centre-back in that game. And I played in the 2001 games, that was also a semi-final in the UEFA Cup and we won the return leg 1-0. Pepe Reina was in goal for Barça in those matches. In 2002, we met them in the Champions League group stage, we drew 0-0 at Camp Nou but lost 3-1 at Anfield. And I remember we played them again the following season in the Champions League, winning 2-1 over there and losing 1-0 at home.
Messi was already an influential player by 2007...
The players we had a lot of respect for then were Iniesta and Eto'o - and Deco was there too. It was a great team and they'd won the Champions League the year before (2006). I remember they were taking photos of Ronaldinho without his shirt on and he was a little overweight. It was more Ronaldinho's team than Messi's back then.
Messi, the best, most complete player
What will you be telling your kids and grandchildren when you mention you actually played against Messi?
He's one of the best players in history alongside Maradona and Pelé. Messi hasn't won the World Cup and some people use that to criticize him which I think is very unfair. I think Messi would be the best player if you made a team comprising all of the best players of all-time. He's definitely the best player I've ever played against. What he did against Tottenham at Wembley sums up what Messi is all about. He was Man of the Match that day. He gets compared to Cristiano Ronaldo, but Messi's something else - more relaxed, more complete - he passes, sets up and scores goals and all of that is what puts him on another level.
What about Coutinho, have you seen changes in him since he left Liverpool?
I've hardly seen Coutinho play since he joined Barça because it's difficult to watch LaLiga games in the UK. He's playing as a forward but out wide on the left but I prefer him playing more centrally through the middle. They signed him to be the new Iniesta, didn't they? At Liverpool, he played a more central role, distributing the ball. Maybe Barcelona paid more than they should have for him. It's a shame it hasn't really worked out. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the summer and whether he will continue.
How do you see the tie going?
I think Liverpool will go through; it could be a difficult night for Barcelona. Maybe Barça will win the first leg but I reckon Liverpool will get an away goal and that could be key.
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