Liverpool have done the unthinkable by beating Barcelona 4-0 to move on to the Champions League Final in Madrid after loosing the first leg 3-0 at the Camp Nou.
Another Special Night at Anfield
Liverpool are five time European Champions so big time games are nothing new to them. With that in mind, we may have just witnessed the greatest night at Anfield in the history of this competition. After Barcelona won the first leg, nobody gave Liverpool any chance of a comeback against the Spanish champions. The day before the match, Vincent Kompany practically wrapped up the Premier League title for bitter rivals Manchester City with a miracle goal for a central defender. One would have to excuse them for approaching this return leg against Barcelona feeling a little sorry for themselves after seeing the Premier League title slip that much further away before having to try and beat the mighty Barcelona by at least four goals.
That’s the thing about this version of Liverpool, they have the stamina, the tenacity and now the quality to go after any team in the world. In the fist leg back in Barcelona, even though they lost 3-0, that was more down to the brilliance of the one of the best players of all time, Lionel Messi, than Liverpool’s shortcomings. Liverpool outplayed Barcelona on that night in every aspect of the game except the scoreboard, obviously the most important part. So strong is the Liverpool self belief at the moment that they managed to do this without two thirds of their vaunted front three. No Salah, no Firmino, no problem for Klopp’s men. Step in Divock Origi and Georginio ‘Gini’ Wijnaldum. With two goals apiece, they have written themselves in Liverpool folk lore with their performances. While Origi came out of nowhere to step up when his team needed him most, Gini Wijnaldum has had the best season of his career. Most people thought with the purchase of Naby Keita, Wijnaldum would end up loosing his place in the team. Instead what he’s done is prove time and again that he is a valuable piece to Jurgen Klopp‘s puzzle. He can play in all three positions in midfield and he proved again in Barcelona how truly versatile he is by playing in the ‘number 10’ role just behind two strikers when the team had to change formation due to Roberto Firmino’s injury. His performances for his club and for the Dutch national team have been outstanding this year and he has received the ultimate reward for his efforts with a hero’s performance to take his team to their second consecutive Champions League final.
For a better idea of what a special place Anfield is on a Champions League night, here are the post match scenes with the Liverpool players and their fans. If you’re reading this at work you should turn down the volume! Absolutely amazing scenes:
Liverpool players singing YNWA with the fans. Incredible scenes at Anfield ❤️ https://t.co/KraZv5E1jc
— True Soccer Life ⚽️ (@TrueSccrLife) May 7, 2019
How Could Barcelona Let This Happen Again?
Many Barcelona fans have never forgiven Ernesto Valverde for the humiliating defeat to Roma last year in the Quarterfinals after they had won the first leg 4-1 at home. This loss to Liverpool might well cost him his job. It’s hard to imagine a coach who has won back to back league titles in very convincing fashion might get fired because of two bad games but that’s the life of a top manager. When you manage a club with the expectations of Barcelona, you can’t let your team be humiliated like this and get away with it. That’s the problem for Ernesto Valverde at the moment. He made the same mistake in consecutive seasons when it seemed impossible to lose and to most fans of this giant club, that is unforgivable. While it might be unfair, Valverde himself knew the risks he was taking with the decisions he made. You can look at the fact that his team doesn’t play in the traditional ‘Barcelona way’ starting with his old school, 4-4-2 formation and his habit of always picking the safe option when it comes to tactics and substitutions. It’s one thing to stick to your guns tactically but when you see they aren’t working, there must be a plan B and he didn’t seem to have one for the second consecutive year.
His post match press conference sums it up:
— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) May 8, 2019
You have to feel bad for Valverde on some level because he is obviously a great manager. He can’t be absolved from blame but his players didn’t do him any favors. There was a clear lack of athleticism in Barcelona’s midfield and overall the team as a whole simply could not cope with Liverpool’s high press. There is no team in La Liga BBVA that plays with anything close to the intensity that Liverpool bring and in the end, Valverde was tactically naive with his team selection for this game. He knew from the first leg that they were overmatched in this department which is why he made a defensive substitution 15 minutes into the second half of that game in Barcelona. That is the type of safe tactics that the Barcelona faithful hate from him but in this case it was exactly what his team needed as he replaced Coutinho with Semedo for more defensive solidity and it worked. Why then would he choose to start Sergi Roberto at right back at Anfield is a mystery. He absolutely could not cope with Liverpool’s pressure and when you add to that Jordi Alba having one his worst games, that’s both of your fullbacks being exposed.
The fallout out from this loss is only in the preliminary stages. The team still have a Copa Del Rey final left to play with the league tittle already wrapped up. Once the season is over we will know exactly what Valverde’s fate will be as surely a lot will be said between now and the end of the season as everyone associated with Barcelona FC will have a lot to contemplate.