Chris Williams – BARCELONA, SPAIN
Marc-André ter Stegen spoke pre-match about Barcelona’s desire to ‘control the game’. A Lionel Messi masterclass at the top of the pitch equalled the performance from ter Stegen at the back as Barcelona ended the night in full control.
- Luis Suarez opened the scoring on 26 minutes – his first Champions League goal of the season after 36 shots
- Lionel Messi hit two quick – late – second-half goals to leave the Catalans on the verge of the Champions League Final
- Mohamed Salah struck the post for the visitors
Barcelona vs Liverpool
Goals: 1-0 (Suarez, 26′), 2-0 (Messi, 75′), 3-0 (Messi, 82′)
Jürgen Klopp was unable to call upon the services of ex-Hoffenheim forward, Roberto Firmino for the start of this crucial leg at Barcelona. The Brazilian has been an ever-present part of Klopp’s plans since his arrival at Liverpool three and a half years ago.
While medical staff advised Firmino was ready to go, Klopp wanted to make completely sure the attacker wasn’t used unless absolutely necessary. Georgino Wijnaldum was listed as the third of Liverpool’s front three, the Dutchman starting in the central role.
Both sides looked for an early goal – Alisson alive to a cross from Suarez, while Salah was denied at the far post by Jordi Alba – the game was a little more than a few minutes old but the tempo had been set.
Liverpool had no fear and their play showed it, drawing jeers and whistles from the home crowd as they dictated the early play. For the hosts, it was, of course, Lionel Messi that provided the danger. The Argentine was surrounded by three Liverpool players but still managed to find ex-Red Philippe Coutinho, however – Virgil van Dijk was there to sweep up the embers of a Barcelona attack.
A frantic pace had been set and the fixture became all the more enthralling for it. With the clock approaching 15 minutes, Liverpool nervously held their breath as Messi berated the referee for a penalty. His pass seemed to hit Joel Matip on the arm but the distance was impossibly short for it to have been deliberate.
Naby Keita was forced off through injury on 24 minutes, replaced by Jordan Henderson – within two minutes of him taking to the field, the visitors were a goal behind. Alba split the Liverpool defence with one pass and Luis Suarez expertly slid the ball home. The ex-Liverpool player notched his first Champions League goal of the season, against his old club.
Liverpool had created problems for the Catalan side, but their final ball wasn’t equal to that of their hosts in front of goal – Mohamed Salah began to look like the Reds’ best option to pull a goal back, but it was Sadio Mane who had the clearest opportunity on 35 minutes – blazing the ball over ter Stegen’s crossbar from seven yards.
As the halftime whistle went, Liverpool had certainly created moments of note – but it was Barcelona who held the advantage.
Liverpool came out fired up for the second half, ter Stegen saving well from James Milner on 47 minutes. The Reds’ midfielder whipped in a ferocious shot but the German international was equal to it – something his counterpart, Manuel Neuer hadn’t been in his fixtures against Liverpool.
The Barcelona ‘keeper was called into action once again just moments later, this time thwarting Salah from the edge of the area, the Mönchengladbach native was showing just why he is regarded as the best shot-stopper in Germany by some.
Liverpool began to find their groove, Salah plucking the ball out of the air on 59 minutes – to a round of applause from the home supporters – then played a dangerous pass across the box but Milner was once again denied by ter Stegen at the last.
His defiance to see the Barca goalline breached allowed the hosts to remain in control even if the Merseysiders were creating them all sorts of problems at times, but ride their luck the Catalan’s did.
However, a seven-minute brace by Messi heaped misery on Liverpool. First the forward tapped home from close range before curling an unstoppable freekick past Alisson.
Liverpool should have reduced the gap through Salah after a wonderful Liverpool move, but all the attacker could only hit the frame of the Barcelona goal.
In a game of fine margins, it was Barcelona who ensured they reaped the rewards while the Reds were left to rue their missed opportunities.
Barcelona vs Liverpool – Man of the Match – Marc-André ter Stegen
There is a debate that rages in Germany currently, ‘just who is the best goalkeeper in the country?’ – Joachim Löw thinks it is Manuel Neuer, others are not so sure, and on this type of performance by his number two you can see why.
Denying James Milner and Mohamed Salah kept the Blaugrana in the first leg at a time when they looked capable of leaking an away goal. His defiance allowed them to hit an important second and with it overall control of who reaches Madrid come 1 June.
Barcelona vs Liverpool – Talking Point
The Roberto Firmino conundrum – Jürgen Klopp opted to go against the Liverpool medical advice and not start his most prized player for the German’s system. His choice was Dutchman, Georgino Wijnaldum but the tactical switch didn’t materialise into the goals Liverpool needed.
By the time Wijnaldum was replaced by Firmino the Reds were 2-0 down, the change had come almost 20 minutes too late and there was little anyone could do about Messi’s freekick. Salah missed a golden opportunity to reduce the deficit on 84 minutes but the Egyptian struck the post. How crucial will that turn out to be in seven days time?
Barcelona vs Liverpool – Match Stats
- Suarez’s opener was Barcelona’s 500th goal in the Champions League – only Real Madrid have scored more.
- Barcelona are unbeaten in 32 Champions League home games – a record run in the competition
- The second leg takes place on 7 May at Anfield
Barcelona vs Liverpool – Line-ups
Ter Stegen, Sergi Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Vidal, Messi, Suarez, Coutinho
Coach: Ernesto Valverde
Alisson, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Fabinho, Milner, Wijnaldum, Keita, Mane, Salah
Coach: Jürgen Klopp
Chris Williams is a freelance European football journalist. Covering the Bundesliga, Premier League and both of UEFAís European club competitions. Published in both local and international publications, he also contributes to television and radio across the globe. A member of the UKís Sports Journalist Association and the International Sports Press Association (AIPS). Follow Chris Williams on Twitter @Chris78Williams