The issue with focusing your energies on solely Lionel Messi, as Jurgen Klopp rightly recognized in his pre-match press convention, is that Barcelona have 10 different gamers. They aren’t freaks of nature. Not anomalies within the gene pool. They’re, to a person, mere human beings slightly than extraterrestrials. However reviews of their demise have been significantly exaggerated.
Messi received this sport and maybe this tie with two second-half targets to depart Liverpool getting ready to Champions League elimination on the semi-final stage, however he solely did so after these round him had given him the platform. This can be a sometimes-maligned Barcelona however it’s nonetheless Barcelona. Nonetheless a group which, underneath Ernesto Valverde, has solely misplaced 4 video games in league and European competitors over the previous two seasons.
Solely a type of defeats – that scarcely credible reverse in Rome in final yr’s quarter-finals – was in any respect vital. It’s a notable blot on Valverde’s copy guide however it’s the just one. Jurgen Klopp has only a few on his too, however the curious line-up he chosen for this defeat could go down as one in every of them except Liverpool can flip the deficit round.
Joe Gomez was at right-back, making his first begin since breaking his leg in December. Trent Alexander-Arnold was on the substitutes’ bench. The in-form captain, Jordan Henderson, was initially stored in reserve too. Georginio Wijnaldum performed as a false 9. All this, in arguably essentially the most vital sport of your season to this point. On the Camp Nou, no much less.
A few of these choices had been enforced. Others – significantly these down the left-hand facet – felt like a concession to the participant who Klopp described as the best he has ever personally witnessed. Messi was harried, kicked, pushed, barged and primarily crowded out at each alternative.
The in any other case wonderful Joel Matip was a contact lucky to not concede an early penalty when his try and smother the Argentinian. Matip was lashing on the ball, desperately attempting to beat it away, however kicked it up towards his hand. Bjorn Kuipers, the match referee, didn’t discover.
James Milner, who took explicit pleasure in bludgeoning Messi, out on the identical touchline the place he was nutmegged by him 5 years in the past. The ball was out of play after Andrew Roberton’s well-timed sort out. There was no hazard of a fast restart to provoke a counter. However the temptation to depart one in was too nice. Liverpool’s plan out of possession may due to this fact be boiled down to 2 phrases: suffocate Messi.
Maybe then, in a technique, this was a match-up between a person and a collective in any case, however that interpretation falls considerably flat when the 10 different gamers on this Barcelona group step in for his or her chief, denying you the house during which to play and forcing the opening themselves.
There was the defence, led by the spectacular Clement Lenglet and evergreen Gerard Pique, throwing their our bodies down to dam one other try at aim. There was the midfield made up completely over over-30s, not solely maintaining with the frantic tempo however dictating it. There was Marc-Andre ter Stegen, whose interventions initially of the second half had been as essential as any aim.
After which there was Jordi Alba’s cross and Luis Suarez’s end, the 2 actions which produced Barcelona’s first of the evening, the one which killed Liverpool’s early momentum. The execution of each was beautiful, the timing extra so, exploiting Virgil van Dijk’s uncharacteristic lapse in focus to fillet Klopp’s defence. Messi performed no half. He had not wanted too.
Earlier than that, Liverpool had their possibilities. Mohamed Salah was embarking on lengthy, intricate dribbles which might be described as Messi-esque. Sadio Mané was discovering ample house in behind Sergi Roberto, lacking that remaining contact to make a possibility depend. However after Alba and Suarez mixed, that preliminary power and spark by no means returned.
From there on, a bruised however unbowed Messi took the sport away from Liverpool. It was the 75th minute when he prepared, contained in the penalty space, to react after Suarez’s effort had struck the crossbar and dribble over the goal-line. Six minutes later, he was curling a spectacular free-kick from 25-yards out out of Alisson’s attain and into the highest left-hand nook.
He’s nonetheless this facet’s genius, their match-winner, and the participant who any facet visiting on the Camp Nou should be sure to minimise, because the late present which can resolve this semi-final demonstrated. However scale back Barcelona to Messi and Messi alone at your peril.