Liverpool are bidding to reach their second successive Champions League final as they travel to the Camp Nou for the first leg of their semi-final against La Liga champions Barcelona.
It isn’t the first time these two sides have clashed in Europe’s premier club competition, but the stakes have never been this high.
Barcelona are no strangers to European semi-finals but they haven’t reached the final of the competition since they won it during the 2014/15 campaign.
Here, our friends at Football Whispers give a detailed breakdown of what Liverpool can expect when they face off against the La Liga juggernauts.
Barcelona head into the game looking unbeatable.
Ernesto Valverde’s men haven’t suffered defeat since the 2-0 loss to Sevilla in January. The Blaugrana have won 13 of their last 15 matches played, including victories over Manchester United, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Lyon.
This remarkable run has seen them score, on average, 2.4 goals while only conceding 0.66 on a per 90-minute basis.
In the Champions League, they’re undefeated in the ten matches they’ve played this term and, again, have averaged an absurd 2.3 goals for and 0.6 goals against.
Furthermore, The last time they lost at the Camp Nou was back in November when Real Betis won a seven-goal thriller.
Since defeat to Los Verdiblancos, Barcelona have won 15 of the 18 home matches they’ve played. Valverde’s men have been in rampant form, hitting 46 goals in those games.
In a nutshell, they’re just unstoppable. Messi is supposed to be coming to the end of his career but he’s at the very peak of his powers now and more influential than ever before. Even if you manage to stem the supply to the Barcelona No.10, the La Liga champions have a host of other stars who can change a game in the blink of an eye.
Former Reds Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho have the ability to run riot in the right circumstances and though the former hasn’t yet lived up to his price tag he showed what he can do against Manchester United when he curled home a sublime effort past David de Gea. If he isn’t starting then Valverde can turn to Ousmane Dembele, the sort of wide player who Trent Alexander-Arnold struggles against.
Suarez has failed to register a goal in the Champions League this term but has 21 strikes in La Liga to his name. He’s a danger and you can guarantee he’ll be up for this clash against his former employers.
Barcelona aren’t as pure in possession as they were under Pep Guardiola but the La Masia DNA is still running through the veins of the players. It’s total football coupled with a little more composure. They still play out from the back. They still look to retain possession and they still look to move through the gears as soon as they hit the final third.
Barcelona aren’t as defensively assured as it first appears. Though they’ve conceded just 32 times in 35 matches in the Spanish top flight, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. In fact, the team have been overly reliant on Marc-Andre ter Stegen this term.
The German keeper has bailed out his defence, changed regularly due to injuries to Samuel Umtiti, on a number of occasions and it’s only when you look at the underlying stats that you realise this.
Barcelona have conceded eight fewer goals than their expected goals total this term, a stat which shows the real value of a smart shot-stopper. Their average expected goals against per 90 total is 1.12, and this is when playing against inferior opposition to Liverpool. If the Reds fancy it on Wednesday night, they could cause the hosts a number of problems.
It’s the battle of the facilitators as Suarez comes up against Firmino. The two No.9s are both the underappreciated parts of their attacking units but without them neither team would be nowhere near as productive or as effective.
An accusation levelled at both this term is that they haven’t been at their best. Yet the former Liverpool man is still averaging 0.66 goals per 90 and has been incredible in many of the big matches for Barca. Likewise, a positional tweak to Firmino’s role saw him involved in the build-up play as a No.10.
It has an impact on his output but he’s still averaged 0.44 goals per 90 and he’s on 16 for the season in all competitions, not a bad return with at least four games of the season remaining.
This tie is guaranteed goals. It could be the perfect platform for Liverpool’s attacking trio to really explode and announce themselves in this season’s Champions League. Barcelona will attack.
The hosts will push forward and they will leave space to exploit. The Reds are one of the best counter-attacking teams in Europe and with the freedom of the Camp Nou to attack, they could rack up quite the scoreline.
*Odds subject to change
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by Tom Bodell