Barcelona and Liverpool will hope to take a step closer to the next month’s UEFA Champions League final when they meet at Camp Nou on Wednesday.
Just four matches remain for a memorable 2018-19 UEFA Champions League to come to an end. But, before that the marquee fixture in Europe this week will see Barcelona play hosts to Liverpool at Camp Nou in the first leg of their semi-final tie on Wednesday night.
Barcelona have enjoyed a fine 2018-19 campaign so far, even though they have not been a dominating force all throughout. Indeed, defensive astuteness has been the name of the game for the Catalans of late, with the same ensuring they cruised to another La Liga triumph, when they narrowly beat Levante this past weekend.
As far as the UEFA Champions League is concerned, the Blaugrana comfortably topped Group B ahead of Tottenham Hotspur before easing past Lyon and Manchester United in the Round of 16 and the quarter-finals, respectively. With the Copa del Rey final against Valencia set up as well, the treble dream is well and truly alive for Barcelona.
Liverpool, on the other hand, are enjoying a positively unfamiliar season so far. While the Reds did not get as much joy as their hosts, they are going toe-to-toe with Manchester City in the Premier League title race, which looks set to go right down the wire.
In Europe, Jurgen Klopp’s men started slowly before narrowly scraping through to knockout stages. The two subsequent rounds though, have seen Liverpool come into their own, having outclassed Bayern Munich and FC Porto with barely any trouble.
Liverpool were victorious the last time they locked horns with Barcelona at Camp Nou, with goals from Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise ensuring a 2-1 win. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Champions League encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Ernesto Valverde does not have a single pressing injury concern hampering his preparations for the visit of Liverpool. On Wednesday, the Barcelona manager will only be bereft of Rafinha Alcantara, who has seen his campaign being curtailed due to a long-term injury.
Valverde has rotated his troops quite well in recent games, which ought to bode well when they welcome Liverpool. The likes of Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi did not start against Levante last weekend, while Philippe Coutinho was only given 45 minutes on Saturday.
The Brazilian has looked much improved lately and with Ousmane Dembele still showing signs of rust since his return from injury, it looks likely that the former Liverpool midfielder will get the nod to start in the attacking trio. The other two spots in the final third will surely be taken up by the star duo of Messi and Luis Suarez.
Meanwhile, Arturo Vidal has given Valverde a lot to think about with his colossal showings in the middle of the park lately. But, the Barcelona boss is likely to place an emphasis on creativity on Wednesday, which means Arthur should start alongside Ivan Rakitic and Busquets.
At the back, there is no looking past Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet and Jordi Alba for three of the four spots. The final place should be taken up by Sergi Roberto, who was another player who did not start on the weekend. The defence should yet again provide cover to ever-present goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Suarez, Coutinho
For Jurgen Klopp, the major injury issue heading into the crunch Champions League clash against Barcelona has surrounded Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian forward has been struggling with a minor groin injury that forced him to miss the game against Huddersfield Town.
The Liverpool boss appeared to provide a promising update on Firmino, but will leave it late to take a call on whether he starts or not. Should Firmino be unable to prove his fitness, Divock Origi is the likely candidate to start in attack alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, with Daniel Sturridge failing to grab his opportunity against Huddersfield.
In midfield, there could be one or two shuffles, with an eye on the tricky trip to Newcastle in the Premier League this weekend. With that in mind, Naby Keita might drop down to the bench, with Fabinho replacing him in the side. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returned to action against Huddersfield, but could be saved for the Newcastle United fixture.
Fabinho’s return should mean Georginio Wijnaldum moves in the no. 8 role after playing in a deep lying position in the last two games. Jordan Henderson will make the up numbers in midfield and will hope to be as influential as he has been in the new role that has offered him a lot of freedom.
At the back, Virgil van Dijk should see Joel Matip returning as his partner at the heart of the Liverpool defence after the Cameroonian was rested this past weekend. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are, meanwhile, certain starters in the full-back slots, while Alisson Becker will man the goal.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane
- Liverpool are the only English side to win away at Barcelona in European competition, beating them 1-0 in the 1975-76 UEFA Cup and 2-1 in the 2006-07 Champions League.
- Barcelona have only gone through from one of their four European Cup/Champions league semi-finals against English opposition, having been knocked out in 1974-75 by Leeds United, 2007-08 by Manchester United and 2011-12 by Chelsea. Their only such progression came in 2008-09 against Chelsea, before beating Manchester United in the final in Rome.
- Barcelona are unbeaten in 31 Champions League home games (W28 D3), the best ever such run in the competition. The Catalan giants have conceded just 15 goals in those 31 games, and never more than once in a match.
- Barcelona’s next goal in the Champions League will be their 500th strike in the competition. Only Real Madrid (551) have scored more such goals than the Spanish champions.
- Lionel Messi has scored 24 goals in just 32 Champions League matches against English opposition, although the Argentine has failed to find the back of the net the two times he has faced Liverpool.
Player to Watch
Virgil van Dijk
Fresh from being crowned as the PFA Player of the Year, Virgil van Dijk is sure to be riding a wave of confidence ahead of Liverpool’s meeting with Barcelona on Wednesday. The Dutch defender has been on another level altogether this season, with no forward managing to get the better of him on a sustained level so far.
But, in Lionel Messi, van Dijk will have a test unlike any other he has faced in his stellar Liverpool stint so far. The 27-year-old has come up against Barcelona previously, while he was at Celtic, and he will be keen on banishing the memories of the 6-1 thrashing that the Catalans handed his side that night.
Since then, however, van Dijk has grown leaps and bounds, and if he is able to channel his best form on Wednesday, Barcelona might have met their match at Camp Nou at long last in the UEFA Champions League this season.
Barcelona 1-1 Liverpool
The draw has given us two intriguing UEFA Champions League semi-final ties. The one on Wednesday, however, has pitted arguably the two best sides remaining in the competition, and a high quality contest can be expected. This tie though, is unlikely to be laden with goals, considering the sheer quality of the two defensive units.
With Lionel Messi nearing his 600th club goal, some fireworks can still be expected, although Virgil van Dijk might have something to say about that. On the other end, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah seem to be striking top form at the perfect moment, but Gerard Pique will not be easy to beat either.
Barcelona are a tough nut to crack anywhere at the present moment, let alone at Camp Nou. But, if there is one side that can manage to scale the seemingly insurmountable wall, it is Liverpool. In the end, there might not be too much to separate the two sides, and The Hard Tackle is going with a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou.