7 talking points as Messi brace leaves Reds on the brink
Features By: Ikponmwosa Umweni | 02/05/2019
Liverpool's Champions League hopes to look all but over after a Lionel Messi double saw Barcelona claim a convincing first leg semi-final win in the Camp Nou, with the Reds missing plenty of chances in the process.Despite a bright start from Jurgen Klopp's side, the hosts took the lead in the 25th minute when Jordi Alba's pinpoint low cross was expertly converted by Luis Suarez at the near post to claim his first Champions League goal of the season.Liverpool came out of the traps well in the second half, with James Milner and Mohamed Salah forcing Marc-Andre ter Stegen into excellent saves.But it was the Spanish champions who grabbed the crucial second goal against the run of play, as Suarez's shot cannoned off the crossbar before Lionel Messi followed up with a tap-in.Messi completed the scoring with a stunning 30-yard free kick ten minutes before full time, but only before Salah missed a huge opportunity to bag the Reds an away goal, but he could only hit the post from close range. Let look at the seven talking points of the encounter on Tuesday night.TacticallyIf you were expecting open, full-blazing attacking football at Camp Nou from those two marvellous teams, you were, perhaps, a bit too optimistic. This was a game of caution. A game between two sides, if not terrified, very respectful of each other. Jurgen Klopp was well-advised of the need to keep Barcelona's fluid machine stifled while Ernesto Valverde knew too well that Liverpool were more than capable of tearing any ball-fondling team to shreds with their voracious attacking forays. The latter is the main reason the more rabid Arturo Vidal was picked ahead of the far more finessing Arthur Melo. It is also why Liverpool's system emphasized modesty over flamboyancy. Joe Gomez for Alexander-Arnold and Milner over Firmino. The priority of "keeping it real" was laid even more bare with the introduction of Nelson Semedo for Philippe Coutinho with half an hour of football to play. The implication was a game that delivered grapes over oranges. It only became open towards the end when Liverpool were left exposed by their sudden need to balance things a little bit. Klopp's formation change: hit or miss?I'll answer this one very quickly. Not a miss. With Barcelona running away with a 3-goal win, many would likely hammer on the absence of Roberto Firmino as a reason for the away side's costly bluntness. In my view that need not be so. First, Liverpool do not always rely on the Brazilian attacker for goals. He plays more of a false 9 role. Secondly, Liverpool did make their own chances too and they were missed by players who would normally expect to score. Sadio Mané has been in the form of his life but missed a sitter. James Milner shot straight at Ter Stegen when it was, perhaps, easier to score. Salah missed when he had the goal at his mercy. This was a case of one team taking their chances over the other.