Barcelona stun Liverpool at the Camp Nou temple
Barcelona take a solid advantage back to Anfield after Suárez and Messi got the goals in their Champions League semi-final first leg. Messi scored his 600th goal for Barcelona.
Barcelona 3-0 Liverpool: match report
Barcelona have a foot and four toes in the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night in an utterly enthralling encounter between two confident sides looking to do damage when they had the ball and win it back in order to attack when they didn't.
It was tight, at times terse, tense and relentless. Two of the best teams in Europe duking it out for all they were worth. Neither side taking a step backwards and attacking every chance they got. Klopp said a draw would be a fine result before the game but for all intents and purpose, the Reds came to Barcelona looking for goals.
Then Messi, like a pin piercing a ballon, deflated Liverpool with a quick-fire double and as good as ended Klopp's hopes of a second successive Champions League final. "Would we suffer?" Klopp had said. "100%" was his rhetorical reply to himself.
A Luis Suárez goal helped Barcelona settle after a somewhat sloppy start. Gerard Piqué might have been lucky not to concede a penalty after bundling into the impressive Sadio Mané in the area early on. Mohamed Salah was causing problems on the right and so was Andy Robertson on the right. They couldn't capitalise on that opening momentum though.
They were their usual dynamic selves with cutting runs and incisive passing. Naby Keita went off injured after 24 minutes, however, and everything changed. Jordan Henderson did not provide the attacking threat Keita had been offering and Liverpool looked more blunt for their misfortune.
Two minutes after that change, Jordi Alba sent a perfectly placed, if not entirely hopeful, pass into the box and Luis Suarez somewhow managed to turn his foot into an almost unnatural position to send it arching over Alisson. The perfect parabola caught the Brazilian entirely off guard and he likely wasn't the only one such was the Uruguayan's feat as he engineered his foot into an impossible position.
Liverpool stuck to the plan but that goal, after they had largely dominated, left a bitter taste at the break. To their credit they came out swinging, as Klopp's sides are wont to do, and not only dominated but had Barcelona chasing shadows for even longer spells of the second half with Lionel Messi admitting after the game that "we were a little bit breathless as we're used to having the ball."
As Liverpool's confidence and desperation grew in equal measure, Messi knew his chance was coming. He was quietly assessing the terrrain, the weakness in Liverpool's cover and how to inflict maximum damage once that opportunity came along.
On 75 minutes as Liverpool's knocks on the door got a little bit louder with less space in between them, Messi picked up the ball in the hole in front of the penalty area. He played through to Sergi Roberto, who couldn't quite control it and it landed to Suarez, who volleyed against the crossbar.
Messi, who had stayed involved in the play, chested it down and rolled it home as he told the fans in the Camp Nou not to whistle Coutinho after the Brazilian was heckled when Nelson Semedo replaced him earlier in the half. Suarez was unlucky not to score another incredible goal but such is the telepathy of the two men involved, he might claim an assist as it feel perfectly into Messi's lap.
Liverpool figured they'd pick up where they left off and that Messi's magic had come and gone. But when Fabinho obstructed him 35 yards from goal, he both placed it and slammed it into the top corner all at once. Alisson was at full reach and everything was in place. No other player in the world could have placed it where he did and Liverpool were left to rue the fact that Lionel Messi decides games. Even on quiet nights at the office, or the temple, if you'd prefer.
Messi says "it's not decided yet" after his two goals as good as crushed Liverpool's dreams. But they do have to go to Anfield in a week's time and while everything could and maybe even might go to plan, there is never any planning for the greatest footballer currently operating in the Champions League and beyond.
Barcelona vs Liverpool live online: match updates
Barcelona vs Liverpool live online: preview
If last night was the underdog semi-final between Spurs and Ajax, this is very much the main event as two of Europe's elite teams play each other for a place in the final at the Wanda Metropolitano in June. Barcelona with Messi, their shining light, are keen to win what he described earlier in the season "that beautiful cup" and have set their minds on toppling Real Madrid as Europe's best team. Madrid did that to themselves but now Barcelona are playing against a team many people consider the worst type of team to play them. Liverpool are aggressive, fast, confident and intense. They've already made it to the Champions League final last season and while they lost that, Klopp and co. have pushed City all the way in the Premier League and exceeded expectations again in the Champions League. There is a feeling that they have nothing to lose here with Barcelona desperate to recapture the title once more before this ageing team, potentially, breaks up and starts again.
All eyes will be on Messi, of course, but anyone not interested in the very best player in the world will be keeping tabs on Coutinho. Ernesto Valverde kept his faith in the Brazilian during a poor spell earlier in the year and while he hasn't completely arrested the slump, he remains in Valverde's plans. He should start tonight ahead of Ousmane Dembélé and he will need to be as active as ever to keep Liverpool at bay. The only absence for Barcelona is Rafinha, who suffered a knee injury and is out for the year. Klopp does admit, however, that it's not just about Messi and while Carragher says he is the best player he has ever played against, Barcelona do have options other than the Argentine and they'll have to be tactically perfect tonight.
Jurgen Klopp, the effervescant coach, said "a draw would not be the worst result in the world" in the press conference before the game, but he might be using this as a plot. To be fair to the German, however, he is right. The only injury concern for them is Roberto Firmino and his status is up in the air. He didn't play against Huddersfield and there were reports it was a serious injury but Klopp said he trained and a decision needs to be made. That would make a huge difference to how both sides play if he does miss out.
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