Analysis: Hard-work pays off for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp in electric comeback against Barcelona
Written by: Ajay A K
Trent Alexander-Arnold showed shades of talismanic brilliance as The Reds bought back ancient Istanbul memories in a night laden with one-sided domination.
Even Liverpool fans weren't expecting such a turnaround. Majority of the world approached the second leg of Barcelona-Liverpool as a dead rubber after Lionel Messi and company tore apart the English side, at Nou Camp. However, Liverpool had one of their greatest European nights ever in the second leg as they pulled off a miraculous comeback, winning 4-0 at Anfield, thanks to braces from Divock Origi and Wijnauldum.
Both the teams lined up in 4-3-3 formations. With Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino out of the tie, Jurgen Klopp opted for a makeshift front-three composing of Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri alongside Sadio Mane.
Watch: Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona, Goals and Highlights
The first leg was a very complex narrative, Barcelona hogged less off the ball but at times were brilliantly clinical to trouble Liverpool. The hosts lined up in their preferred 4-3-3 while Liverpool shifted to a 4-4-2 (due to Firmino being on the bench), with Salah and Mane playing upfront. Bracelona were a dominating figure for majority of the first half and finally got a well-deserved goal through Luis Suarez who converted a sublime cross from Jordi Alba to open the scoring against his former team. But at the turn of the half, Klopp's men came roaring forward creating opportunities in quick succession but one moment of weakness allowed Messi to double the scoring. With a 2-0 lead to protect, Barcelona were content to sit back and allowed Liverpool time on the ball.
However, a moment of brilliance from Messi, snuffed out all Liverpool hopes. The Argentine converted a long-range free-kick, placing it over the wall and past Alisson's reach for his second goal of the night. Barcelona's resolute defense held strong against wave after wave of Liverpool attacks, and the first leg ended with a resounding victory for the Spanish giants.
Two words defined Liverpool in the second leg. They were relentlessness and applied pressure. Barcelona, piggybacking on their 3-0 lead from the first leg, were happy to sit back and utilising this, the Reds came roaring at the Blaugrana from the starting whistle allowing the Spanish side very little breathing space.
Klopp's men pressed the Catalans very methodically; at times suffocating the LaLiga side into submitting possession. The role of Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, the latter starting the tie in place of Gomez was key in this regard as they snuffed out danger from the usually menacing Barcelona wings. After Robertson got substituted, James Milner carried out the role flawlessly; and this pressure translated into opportunities on the other end. All of Liverpool goals were a direct result of good work, and the Reds capitalised on what might be Jordi Alba's worst game in a Barcelona shirt.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, in particular, proved to be much for the Spanish left-back to handle as the Liverpool full-back exploited the space on the wings consistently and getting two crucial assists for his efforts. While the hardwork was being done on the wings, Klopp's side also managed to make sure that the centre, especially the inside of the box was packed and the physicality of the English side proved to be a tough nail to crack for mighty Barcelona.
Barcelona, meanwhile in attack, were clueless. The team, once again proved that they were heavily dependent on Messi, as all the other stars failed to carry the torch after Messi was brilliantly kept in check by the Liverpool midfield. Ex-Liverpool players Suarez and Coutinho were largely invisible for majority of the game, as opportunities came in short supply. When they tried to hit the Reds in the counter, they were stopped by van Dijk and Matip. When they tried to keep the ball and create opportunities, they were mobbed by the relentless pressure from the home side. They had one real chance in attack which was brilliantly stopped by Alisson in the second half but they played second fiddle for majority of the match.
Forgotten man Origi scored two goals for Liverpool
Valverde himself ran out of ideas towards the end. While the second and third goals were due to Liverpool's brilliance, the first and fourth were majorly due to a Barcelona's defense that lacked focus.
A bad clearance from a long ball allowed Mane to set Henderson free whose shot rebounded into Origi's path for the first goal. The fourth one saw the entire Barcelona defense sleeping, as Trent Alexander-Arnold capitalised on Origi's positioning by taking a quick corner for a goal which is going to be remembered by Liverpool fans for a very long time.
Liverpool were indeed deserved winners. At a time when they needed to step up and play like it really mattered, they did exactly that. Barcelona were forced to pay a heavy price for thinking that the tie was over. The Blaugrana's lack of focus and resolve was clearly evident during the whole 90 minutes but deserved praise should be heaped on to Klopp and his men as Liverpool move closer to a huge achievement under the German.
Published: Wed May 08, 2019 03:00 PM IST