Barcelona will be aiming to qualify for their first UEFA Champions League final under Ernesto Valverde, when they travel to Anfield to take on Liverpool.
Only three games are left in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League. With the place in the finals up for grabs, Liverpool and Barcelona are set to battle it out on Tuesday night in the second leg of their semi-final clash at Anfield.
The first leg contest between the two sides at Camp Nou ended with Barcelona trumping Liverpool 3-0, courtesy of a Lionel Messi masterclass. And the Catalans will be hoping to avoid any sort of complacency and get the job done in order to seal their first Champions League final appearance since their triumph back in 2014-15 under Luis Enrique.
The preparation for the trip to Liverpool has not been the most ideal one for the La Liga champions though, as they were defeated 2-0 by Celta Vigo on Saturday, although Ernesto Valverde had named a completely second-string side. With the regulars set to return to the side on Tuesday, they go into the game as overwhelming favourites.
Liverpool have had a memorable campaign till date. The Reds are firmly in the race for the Premier League title following their last-ditch 3-2 win over Newcastle United on Saturday, but their hopes of making it to the finals of the Champions League for the second season in a row took a beating with the outcome of the first leg.
However, they will not be pushovers by any means on Tuesday night, spurred on by a buzzing Anfield crowd. It will take a monumental effort from Jurgen Klopp’s men to overturn the three-goal deficit and beat Barcelona, although they can draw confidence from the fact that AS Roma had pulled off something similar against the Catalans last season.
Team News & Tactics
Liverpool have been dealt with a huge blow to their hopes of a comeback as star attackers Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have been ruled out of the game. The Egyptian is concussed, after he picked up a head injury against Newcastle at the weekend while the Brazilian has been struggling with a muscular problem.
In addition to that, the Reds are also sweating over the fitness of PFA Player of the Year award winner Virgil van Dijk, after he did not train with the rest of the team on Monday and participated in individual sessions along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana. Naby Keita is out for the season.
There is no looking past Alisson Becker in goal for Liverpool, while van Dijk should be fit enough to start in defence. Joel Matip should return to the side in place of Dejan Lovren, but Trent Alexander-Arnold is expected to hold on to his slot at right-back ahead of Joe Gomez, who started in the first leg. Andrew Robertson is a guaranteed starter on the opposite side.
Klopp could opt to tweak his formation to a 4-2-3-1 on Tuesday night, with captain Jordan Henderson and Fabinho lining up as the two-man midfield pivot, while Georginio Wijnaldum moves into the No. 10 role to add more bodies in the final third of the pitch.
With no Salah and Firmino, Sadio Mane will be the focal point of this Liverpool attack against Barcelona. He will look to Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi for support, after the duo played key roles in the Reds’ win over Newcastle.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho; Shaqiri, Wijnaldum, Origi; Mane
📅 Tuesday, 07/05
⏰ 9pm CEST
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) May 5, 2019
French speedster Ousmane Dembele is set to miss out for Barcelona after picking up a hamstring injury against Celta Vigo, while Rafinha Alcantara remains absent as well. Jean-Clair Todibo is ineligible and has not travelled to England with the 23-man squad named by the manager.
Having opted to rest almost all of his regulars for the weekend encounter, Valverde is expected to recall them for the game at Anfield. Marc-Andre ter Stegen will return between the sticks, having been rested against Celta, while the entire backline will be changed, with usual suspects Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet and Jordi Alba all set to start.
The midfield too will be shuffled entirely with Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal set to be recalled, after Valverde had opted to start with Riqui Puig, Carles Alena and Arthur Melo in the La Liga encounter at the weekend.
Club captain and Liverpool’s chief tormentor from the first leg, Lionel Messi, is a certain starter on the right side of the attacking trident for Barcelona. The other two slots in attack will see two former Anfield favourites, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, line up against their former side.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Vidal, Busquets, Rakitic; Messi, Suarez, Coutinho
- Liverpool are looking to become only the third team in the history of the European Cup/Champions League to come from three goals down after the first leg of a semi-final and progress to the final, after Panathinaikos in 1970-71 and Barcelona in 1985-86.
- On only three previous occasions has a team been eliminated from a Champions League knockout tie having won the first leg by three or more goals, with the last occasion being Barcelona against Roma in last season’s quarter-final (4-1 first leg, 0-3 second leg).
- Barcelona are the only away side to win more than once at Anfield in the Champions League. The Catalans have won on both of their previous Champions League visits to Anfield against Liverpool, winning 3-1 in November 2001 and 1-0 in March 2007.
- In all European competitions, Liverpool have only lost one of their 18 home semi-finals at Anfield (W14 D3 L1), losing 0-1 against Leeds United in the 1970-71 Fairs Cup.
- Barcelona have won two away Champions League games in England this season, winning 4-2 at Tottenham and 1-0 at Manchester United – no side has ever won three away games in England in a major European competition in a single season.
Player to Watch
Almost five years after he left Liverpool to join Barcelona, Luis Suarez will be returning to Anfield on Tuesday night for the first time and it will be interesting to see what kind of reception he receives on his old stomping ground. The Uruguayan was a firm fan-favourite during his time with Reds, but seemed to have angered the Kop after celebrating scoring in the first leg at Camp Nou.
Suarez hasn’t been at his best in this season’s European competition as the goal he scored against the Reds last week was his first. In all competitions, the 32-year-old has come up with an impressive overall tally of 25 goals and 13 assists from 48 matches. Along with Lionel Messi, he will once again be key if Barcelona are to go all the way in the Champions League this term.
Liverpool 1-2 Barcelona
Despite what the scoreline said at the end of the first leg, Liverpool caused plenty of problems to Barcelona at Camp Nou and were unlucky to come away with a three-goal deficit. Playing in front of their home crowd that will be in full voice on Tuesday night, Jurgen Klopp’s men will definitely take the game to the La Liga champions again.
However, Barcelona will come into the game fresher of the two teams, having rested almost every member of their starting lineup at the weekend. Add to that, the fact that both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino are ruled out for Liverpool and Virgil van Dijk not being 100% fit only tilts the scales further in the Catalans’ favour.
And, that is why we at The Hard Tackle are predicting a 2-1 win for Ernesto Valverde’s side, guaranteeing their progression to the finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2015.