Barcelona grabbed a foothold and more in their UEFA Champions League semi-final against Liverpool following a clinical 3-0 win in the first leg on Wednesday.
Barcelona started the game the stronger of the two sides, with Philippe Coutinho coming close with an early effort. But, with Liverpool pressing them high up, the hosts were happy to sit back and absorb the pressure before attacking on the counter. And one such move yielded them the opening goal of the game.
Midway through the first half, Jordi Alba sent in a brilliant cross from the left flank for Luis Suarez, who timed his run perfectly before finishing past Alisson Becker. The Blaugrana were then let off 10 minutes later when Sadio Mane horribly missed when clean through on goal, shooting well over, meaning the first half ended with the home side holding the slender advantage.
Liverpool looked to pull back to level terms post the break, and dominated the proceedings pretty much for the first half hour of the second period. But, a combination of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who made a couple of sensational saves, poor finishing and the woodwork kept Barcelona’s lead intact.
Liverpool’s inability to find the back of the net would come back to haunt them as Lionel Messi doubled his team’s advantage in the 75th minute, having been alert to the rebound after Suarez had smashed the crossbar. Messi would then go on to round off the win in typical Messi-like fashion.
Having won a free-kick around 30 yards from goal, the Barcelona captain curled the ball around the Liverpool wall before beating Alisson, as the hosts grabbed a major advantage in the tie. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Ernesto Valverde’s men following a dogged, yet clinical performance.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 9/10
A game of two halves in terms of involvement for ter Stegen. In the first 45 minutes, the Barcelona no. 1 only had to distribute the ball, which he did bravely and smartly against the Liverpool press. Post the break, the German goalkeeper was called into action a number of times.
Marc-André ter Stegen has now kept a clean sheet at Camp Nou against four of the five English teams he has faced in the #UCL:
⛔️ vs. Man City
⚽️ vs. Arsenal
⛔️ vs. Chelsea
⛔️ vs. Man Utd
⛔️ vs. Liverpool
Mohamed Elneny the only player to score against him in the Barcelona goal. pic.twitter.com/8StlTLgv5N
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 1, 2019
But, ter Stegen was equal to whatever the opposition attack threw at him, with the save from Mohamed Salah’s long-range effort particularly standing out. In the process, he kept another clean sheet – his seventh in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds.
Sergi Roberto: 6/10
A difficult evening for Roberto, who had his fair share of struggles against the double onslaught of Sadio Mane and Andrew Robertson. But, the Spaniard had his moments of solidity as well, and looked much more assured after moving into the midfield.
Gerard Pique: 7/10
Like Roberto, Pique had some trouble early on when dealing against Mane. But, the experienced centre-back showed veteran instincts after a slow start, organising the backline smartly to keep out the threat of the Liverpool attack. Made a staggering 8 clearances, in addition to three tackles and two interceptions. The leader at the back.
Clement Lenglet: 5/10
Lenglet has gelled in well in his maiden season with Barcelona. But, on Wednesday, he produced perhaps his worst performance yet for the club. With Mohamed Salah running at him, the Frenchman endured a nightmarish evening and was often caught in two minds. No harm done, however, with the hosts keeping a clean sheet.
Jordi Alba: 7/10
A game of highs and lows for Alba. Left a lot of open spaces behind him, which Salah exploited to torment Lenglet. But, he was a constant outlet down the left flank, with his delivery for the opening goal being perfectly weighted. Was more busy at the back in the second half.
Arturo Vidal: 6/10
Starting on the right side of the midfield trident, Vidal was in-charge of keeping a check on Robertson to help Roberto out. But, the fact that the full-back often had to deal with both Mane and Robertson was down to the Chilean. Dug his heels in to help Barcelona dominate midfield at crucial junctures. Was poor on the ball, however.
Sergio Busquets: 8/10
Busquets has blown hot and cold for much of the season. On Wednesday, however, he was mostly hot, as he rolled back the years and bossed the central areas of the pitch. Was accurate with his passes, with a through ball to Messi in the lead-up to the second goal standing out. A colossal performance.
Ivan Rakitic: 8/10
Alongside Busquets, Rakitic was the second best outfield player for Barcelona on the night. The Croat was very adventurous with his runs, with Busquets holding the fort in midfield. Picked the wrong pass at times, but he was still a potent threat in the final third, helping out Messi and Suarez.
Lionel Messi: 10/10
What can be said about the Barcelona captain that has not been said already? Playing on the counter suited Messi perfectly, as he was able to get into wide open spaces in the final third, which helped him pull the strings ever so well, although the absence of Arthur meant he often had to drop deep in the first period, taking away some of his danger.
Delivered with key goals yet again, reacting the quickest after Suarez struck the crossbar before reaching 600 goals for Barcelona. And, what a way to reach the landmark, with Messi unleashing a trademarked, perfect free-kick that Alisson had no reply for. What a player!
Luis Suarez: 7/10
Suarez did get the all-important winner on Wednesday, but other than that, he was far from his best. Too static at times, and he should have scored from the effort that eventually was turned in by Messi. But, the run for his goal was simply brilliant, timing it perfectly to catch Virgil van Dijk unaware. Finally off the mark for the season in Europe, which should ease some pressure.
Philippe Coutinho: 5/10
While one former Liverpool superstar had some joy against his former side, the other was not at it on the night. Showed decent understanding with Suarez early on, but fizzled out quickly, losing the ball in promising positions. Rightly the first player to be taken off.
Nelson Semedo: 6/10
On for Coutinho, Semedo was astute at the back, shutting out Mane whenever he threatened him. Not a major outlet in the final third, but did help Barcelona assert their authority by keeping things simple.
Ousmane Dembele: N/A
A late substitution. While he did not have a lot of time on the pitch, he should have added to his side’s advantage with one of the last kicks of the match. Instead, he ended up fluffing his lines, showing that he is still not sharp enough.
Carles Alena: N/A
An injury-time introduction, Alena was simply a pair of fresh legs.