Barcelona 3-0 Liverpool: Magic Messi, Same old Suarez and Klopp's gung-ho tactics help make Champions League classic

Felix Keith
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Lionel Messi scored twice to bring up 600 goals for Barcelona (Source: Getty)

There is such a thing in football as scoring at the right time.

After 74 minutes Liverpool were cursing their luck but content with a 1-0 score line they could take back to Anfield. Eight minutes later they were heading home with their tails between their legs.

The architect of such a demise was, not for the first time, Lionel Messi.

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As per usual on Champions League nights like this Barcelona’s majestic No10 wrote new records, scoring his 47th and 48th goals of the season in contrasting fashion to bring up 600 for his club and make it 26 in 33 appearances against English clubs in the competition.

If Messi’s first was the easiest he’ll ever score – a rebound in front of an unguarded net – his second was right from his genius playbook: a picture-perfect 30-yard free-kick laser-guided straight into the top corner.

After a performance of heart, fight and no little quality it was a gutting blow for Liverpool, which will likely prove a knock-out one.

Klopp’s decisions

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and Jurgen Klopp may well reflect on his decision to play Georginio Wijnaldum as an uncomfortable false No9, with Roberto Firmino not fully fit.

A different move may not have stopped Messi, but it may well have helped conjure some crucial away goals. Wijnaldum, a capable midfielder, looked like a fish out of water leading the line.

Georginio Wijnaldum struggled up front for Liverpool (Source: Getty)

As part of four changes Klopp also decided to hand Joe Gomez his first start since breaking his leg against Burnley on 5 December, with the defender taking over from the more dynamic, attacking threat of Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back.

Gomez is a solid defender, but offered little going forward, with Liverpool’s flanks heavily weighted towards Andy Robertson on the left as a consequence.

Same old Suarez

Luis Suarez used to be an Anfield idol. You wouldn’t have guessed it watching the Uruguayan striker tonight, as he scrapped, argued, pleaded and charged around the Camp Nou pitch.

Before the game Suarez had endured a quiet Champions League campaign with no goals from 36 shots, but he was on it from the word go against his former club.

Barcelona v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: First Leg
Luis Suarez was his usual pantomime villain self (Source: Getty)

It was his perfectly-timed run and deft finish which opened the scoring from Jordi Alba’s early cross and it was he who provided the foil his opponents so lacked.

If there was any doubts about his bottle playing against his old team, his passionate goal celebration, spats with Alisson and Gomez and booking for dissent showed Suarez didn’t change his game one iota.

Chances missed

On another day Liverpool could easily have gone home with at least two away goals. While they were enterprising without creating much in the first half, besides an opening for Sadio Mane from Jordan Henderson’s ball, they were absolutely dominant for a period after the break.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen had to be at his best to keep out placed attempts by James Milner and Mohamed Salah before Milner shot straight at the Barca keeper from a brilliant move down the right.

Mohamed Salah struck Liverpool's best chance against the post (Source: Getty)

But Barca rode the storm and manager Ernesto Valverde made a cunning substitution to bring on Nelson Semedo and nullify Liverpool’s left before Messi’s magic swung the pendulum in the opposite direction.

There was still time for Firmino to have a shot cleared off the line and Salah to slam the gilt-edged rebound into the post as the away side realised it wasn’t to be their day.

Open season

While it made for a brilliant spectacle, Liverpool’s desperation also made for a wide-open game which suited their opponents.

With Messi drifting into space and pulling strings Barca frequently tore up the pitch in search for more goals.

Twice in injury-time they botched breakaways, with Suarez spurning a three-on-one chance before substitute Ousmane Dembele scuffed an even better one with the last kick of the game.

Ultimately they will be satisfied with three goals to take to the away leg at Anfield but in truth Klopp’s gung-ho gambling late on could have ensured the tie was completely put to bed.