By Leanne Prescott
Fine margins of football
This was a game of the finest margins.
Where Liverpool were wasteful in front of goal, failing to translate their dominance to the scoreboard, Barcelona were impeccably clinical, delivering three huge blows to Jurgen Klopp’s quest for Champions League glory.
Had Sadio Mane converted from Jordan Henderson’s exquisite pass to draw the Reds level in the first-half, the tie would’ve had a very different complexion. So too Mohamed Salah’s golden chance to grab a decisive away goal following Barcelona’s onslaught.
Liverpool gave a brilliant account of themselves at Camp Nou but at this level, against such pedigreed opponents, ruthlessness is key, with two decisive moments inevitably proving their undoing.
Andy Robertson, Europe’s best left-back?
In an ultimate showdown between two European heavyweights, Andy Robertson once again proved why he’s the best left-back in the world right now. While his usual attacking prowess was found wanting at times, his exuberant tracking back and intelligent awareness snuffed out the danger, keeping Barcelona at bay during Liverpool’s period of second-half dominance.
The Scotsman has become a priceless and instrumental cog within Klopp’s system, one who’s impossible to replace. From playing for Hull City to battling at the Camp Nou, nothing seems to overawe this lad.
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Joel Matip excels
Van Dijk may have recently bagged the PFA Player of the Year having enjoyed a sensational season on Merseyside, helping to transform the club’s defensive unit, but it was his centre-back partner who impressed the most in Spain.
The 6’5’’ Cameroonian has been instrumental in Joe Gomez’s absence, earning himself a permanent place in the side having previously been perceived as the club’s fourth choice centre-half.
This was a night that showed just how much he’s progressed; stepping out of the backline in his usual trademark routine, Matip looked to get things going for Liverpool while making timely interceptions to stifle Messi and Coutinho in the second-half.
Gomez needed midfield support
Back in the starting eleven after a lengthy period out, Joe Gomez was in for a tough night in Spain, struggling to contend with the multitude of Barcelona runners. However, the Englishman wasn’t helped by his teammates, who struggled to supply the necessary cover down the right, thereby enabling Jordi Alba to build a credible threat throughout.
At the other end, he lacked the conviction of Trent Alexander-Arnold in the final third, struggling to produce the necessary quality to provide for the front three. Gomez will certainly see better days as he continues to recover from a lengthy absence, and any hopes of turning around the first-leg deficit will be dependent on the midfielders offering necessary cover to assist.
Roberto Firmino’s absence underlines his importance
Deploying Wijnaldum in an unfamiliar forward role, Liverpool desperately lacked the guile and ingenuity of Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian, who was deemed only fit enough to be included on the bench, was a huge miss for Klopp’s side, emphasised by the noticeable boost he provided deep into the second-half.
Slotting in between the lines with slick movement to draw defenders out of position, Firmino could well have given Liverpool a pivotal away goal but for some brilliant last ditch defending and a poor finish from Salah. Ensuring he’s fit enough to play a full part in the second-leg will be essential.
It’s not over till it’s over
A disappointing result to say the least, particularly given the manner of Liverpool’s performance, which deserved so much more than the scoreline reflected, Jurgen Klopp and his players will know it’s not over.
This season has been primed on never giving in, on failing to succumb to narratives or pre-written scripts about how the season will pan out. Liverpool will have been given plenty of encouragement over the chances created going into next week and while it is undoubtedly a blow, it’s not over until it’s over. The Reds will fight for every minute, every tackle, every throw and every goal from here until the end of the season. A record-breaking season.
Up the Reds!
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
By Leanne Prescott