Liverpool beat Barcelona 4-0 to reach the Champions League final where they will either play Ajax or Tottenham on June 1st. The match ended 4-3 on aggregate to the Reds who stunned Barcelona and world football with their magnificent comeback. But Liverpool’s win tells us just one story of the game. This piece is concentrating on Barcelona and their coach Ernesto Valverde who clearly did not do their homework.
A couple of days before the game it was confirmed that Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah would miss the encounter through concussion that he had picked up after Reds Premier League win at Newcastle United that weekend. Losing Salah, arguably Liverpool’s best player of the past two seasons was a massive blow. The club then lost Roberto Firmino. One had to be reminded of the disadvantages Liverpool had had to face, and now they were facing Barcelona in a match where they were already 3-0 down. Clearly there was only going to be one winner. And yet anyone that has followed football for a long time knew that this story wasn’t dead. It’s unfortunate that Barcelona did not.
Rewind back 11 months when in the quarter finals of the Champions League Barcelona beat Roma 4-1 in the first leg only to lose 3-0 in the 2nd and go out on away goals. It was a shocker, never supposed to be repeated, well as long as Ernesto Valverde was coach and as long as Lionel Messi was still playing. And yet the team catapulted again. You almost sensed there would be trouble when Liverpool were 1-0 up at Anfield within the first 10 minutes when Divock Origi put his side in front. That Barca held out until half time at 1-0 gave them a faint glimmer of hope.
True the Catalan giants had their chances in that opening 45 minutes too and Messi had a few chances one after the other, but he was never on his required level to change this game, and the rest of the team played well within themselves.
Within 15 minutes of the restart Georgino Wijnaldum, a bit part player for Liverpool who had not even started the game, but has that uncanny ability to put in performances had scored a brace. The score was now 3-0 and we were simply waiting for Liverpool to get a 4th, of course it came, Origi again to complete a Roy of the Rovers comeback. You just knew at that point had Barca won the first leg 4-0 then Liverpool would have got 5 at Anfield.
Barcelona were a total shambles and a lot of that has and must rest on Valverde’s shoulders. He is of course a very good coach who keeps on guiding the club to domestic honours but one has to question if he really has the steel to win the very big games in Europe. The preparation for this game felt like it was close to zero. Just come here and show up and play like we know, was there any other information relayed to the team?
How could it be that even Barcelona did not understand the magic of Anfield and how Liverpool have through the years turned it on at home, no matter what a first leg result was? Where was the home work, the passion, the hunger and the dedication?
Jurgen Klopp was forced to make changes through injuries and hinted at the press conference before the game that some fans may think his tactics for this game would feel odd. What transpired last night was that even though Klopp has less trophies to show for his time at Liverpool than Valverde has at Barca, is that Klopp is a far better manager than his counterpart, the gulf in class was simply embarrassing.
Why didn’t Valverde think outside the box, instead of selecting on auto pilot the same tired team? What works at home doesn’t always work away, and it would have taken strength to have benched Messi in the 2nd leg. Yes it is easy to see that in hindsight but again sometimes we need to look at history to see it’s not such a bizarre thought.
One remembers when Barcelona failed in 1st legs v Milan and more recently against PSG. Who was their saviour from the bench in those games, Messi who had niggling injuries. But his presence once on the pitch and with fresh legs with 30 minutes to go was pivotal. Imagine last night had Messi came on with the same period to go, Barcelona’s level no matter how poor they were playing would have inevitably have gone up. They needed that secret weapon, and they simply did not need him from the beginning of the match, not this time.
There was a moment in the game that highlighted why Messi was not needed for the early exchanges. Jordi Alba in a fantastic position to shoot, instead squared the ball to Messi who knew himself was a wrong pass. Had Alba shot there was a good chance he could have scored and could have killed the game off. Instead he passed and Messi could do nothing with the ball. That reliance on Messi is no good, not in EVERY game for Barcelona.
Liverpool more than deserve to be in the final. Perhaps they are not the most technically gifted team in Europe, but they showed everything in last nights game that makes up for the very best European champions. Who ever they face in the final they will have added motivation to go on and win it after last years loss to Real Madrid.
For Barcelona, Valverde could be sacked in a few weeks, win or lose the Copa del Rey, there could be a feeling he isn’t the man to take the club onto the next level where they need to be, that’s two seasons in a row where they failed spectacularly through a mixture of bad man management and nonchalance. Things come in three’s and Barcelona’s hierarchy will know that and understand the little omen has to be put to bed and done so quickly.