Madrid, Barça, the Champions League and Lady Luck
The road to the Champions League final takes Messi (and Barça for that matter) to the vibrant, imposing Anfield, a stadium - which has hosted some of the legendary nights of European football. But I’d guess much of it's famous mythology will be missing tonight. Barça hold a 3-0 lead from the first leg and if that wasn’t enough, the hosts will be without two of their star forwards – Firmino and Salah. They’re also without Naby Keita, a player who might not be the most exciting to watch, but who chips in by doing all of the hard labour, the difficult tasks. He would have been the ideal man to stop Messi from bursting into his stride (as well as any player could, faced with such a task). And to cap it all, Virgil Van Dijk, the rock at the heart of the Liverpool defence, is carrying a knock. He’s expected to start, but we’ll see how he gets on.
Coutinho and Dembélé
So all in all, Barça travel to Liverpool relatively relaxed, in spite of Dembélé missing the chance to put the tie to bed with his inexplicable miss n last week’s first leg. Dembélé won’t play tonight either; he picked up a hamstring injury 25 minutes into the weekend game in Vigo, where he was one of the few ‘first team regulars’ Valverde chose to play. His absence isn’t a huge loss for Barça. Neither he nor Coutinho look like they’ll ever justify their price tag. Barça invested heavily in both of them – maybe too hastily in an attempt to fill the void left by Neymar. Act in haste, repent in leisure as the saying goes...
Fortune on Barcelona's side
To summarize, Barça appar to be coasting towards this year’s Champions League, buoyed by a sensational Messi, who is hellbent on making up for all of the disappointments of recent seasons in Europe. And it’s not only him - Ter Stegen, Piqué, Jordi Alba, Luis Suárez and one or two others are at the peak of their game. And Lady Luck tends to smile on those who are in their element. We’ve seen that in this tie against Liverpool – there was Salah watching his effort bounce back off the post at Camp Nou last week and now a clutch of injuries means they go into tonight's return leg under-strength. Like Real Madrid in years gone by, who wriggled their way out of all kinds of fixes in this competition, Barça have luck on their side. They can already see themselves in the final at the Metropolitano.