Both Barcelona and Liverpool In Need of European Success
April 30, 2019
It is these types of ties as to why the Champions League has such an acclaimed reputation. Two heavyweight clubs, with over 150 goals between them this season, going head to head in the semi-finals. With both sides needing the victory, but for very different reasons.
Barcelona host Liverpool in the Champions League in an encounter that looks destined to be a thriller. Neither Ernesto Valverde or Jurgen Klopp have ever tasted European success in their managerial career, but both men will be desperate to deliver their clubs the most acclaimed piece of silverware that football has to offer this season.
So, why should either club be so keen to get their hands on the trophy?
Barca Eclipsing the Madrid Shadow
It seems strange to regard the four time La Liga champions over the last five years as the team in the shadows in Spain. However, this point stems from Real Madrid’s recent and unprecedented success in the CL, which may never be topped in football history again.
Those representing white in Madrid embarked upon a dream journey from 2013 – 2018, winning four Champions League titles in the space of just five years. Their fans were cheering the loudest and proudest in Western Europe, with such noise drowning out the domestic celebrations in Barcelona. Despite their repeated success in the league, Los Cules slowly slipped into the shadows of their most fierce rivals.
Europe has actually been a thorn in Barca’s seasons across the last few years, with tonight’s fixture against Liverpool being their first European semi-final since 2015. From their own standards, this is simply unacceptable. From collapsing in Rome, to being dumped out by Atletico Madrid and Juventus, Barcelona have not been stepping up to the plate.
Cue the heavy expectations being laid on them tonight. Pep Guardiola laid out the benchmark for success for the Catalans during his tenure at the club, with the quick CL double in 2009 and 2011 still earmarking the most successful period in the 21st century for Barcelona. Valverde will want to replicate such a period, as he continues to build on the encouraging foundations that he has already laid down at the club.
Ramifications For Klopp?
This is familiar territory for Jurgen Klopp and this Liverpool side, with the club bidding to reach consecutive Champions League finals for the first time in the club’s history. It was heartache for the Reds in Kiev last season, with the more experienced and more ruthless Real Madrid running out victorious 3-1. Albeit with a helping hand, or two, from Loris Karius.
Many rival fans enjoy pointing out that Klopp is yet to get his hands on a piece of silverware since moving over to the red half of Merseyside, with this still being the missing piece in the German’s jigsaw. Despite this, the 51-year-old has experienced a successful spell at Liverpool, creating and most importantly, establishing a top quality side.
During his time in Merseyside, Klopp’s team has accumulated a reputation for their ‘heavy metal football’ and the aggressive pressing on the field. High tempo and energy are the two main attributes that the German manager demands from his players, but how long until this momentum fades away?
The style of play that Klopp deploys is one that gets results, but it is a draining one nonetheless. They have responded well to last year’s heartache and have produced a miraculous run of form in the Premier League. Despite this, the PL title looks destined to remain in the Etihad and if Barcelona knock the Reds out of Europe, where does this leave Klopp for next season?
He understands just as much as everybody the importance of trophies in football but losing three consecutive finals in Liverpool colours isn’t a pretty record. I’m not one to judge the overall success of a team/manager purely on their trophy count, but silverware is the reason why the game is played and awards should always be the final goal of any footballing project.
Would another trophy-less season spark the end of Klopp’s time in red? Probably not. But it would be an incredibly difficult task to lift a deflated squad up again, if they were to endure another season of heartbreak.
Team News and Gameplans
The beauty about this upcoming tie is that spectators know exactly what to expect from either side. Home or away, Liverpool will be set up with an intent to press and not allow the Spanish side much time on the ball, a factor that Manchester United failed to capitalise on in the quarter-finals.
Barcelona weren’t exactly at their best against the Red Devils, but Lionel Messi, as ever, provided the much needed quality when needed. Cutting in on his favoured left foot, it will be an intriguing match-up between the Argentinian and the in-form Andy Robertson. Helping the Scott out will also be Fabinho, who will look to sweep up any danger in-front of Liverpool’s backline.
Partnering the Brazilian will be Jordan Henderson, whilst Naby Keita or James Milner will make up the midfield trio. Whoever is selected will have their work cut out, as the likes of Arthur Melo and Ivan Rakitic will keep the ball ticking all day long. The same can also be applied to Sergio Busquets, who is normally immune to any sort of opposition pressure.
Where the game will be won or lost though, is down the flanks. Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane will provide the required pace to hurt Barcelona, as their threat on the counter is one that Klopp will need to utilise effectively. Alternatively, they will also need to offer some defensive assurances, as Messi and Philippe Coutinho will drop inside, whilst their full-backs maintain the width to stretch the pitch.
It really is an intriguing match-up, as both teams possess enough attacking firepower to hurt any team across Europe. The difference may lie with a moment of magic, most specifically in the shape of Lionel Messi. A lot of attention will be placed on the little magician, but it could well be an ex-player to come back and ‘bite’ his old team.
Prediction: Barcelona 2-1 Liverpool – 7/1 with Unibet
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As an experienced sports writer, Josh has been published across various different platforms, writing about his beloved club Manchester United and other footballing topics. He also covers a range of other sports, specialising in UFC and Formula One.