Champions League: Tactical Preview - Barcelona vs Liverpool 1st leg
Here we go again. The UEFA Champions League is back and we can't but just drool over the fixtures. Ajax vs Tottenham and Barcelona vs Liverpool are going to have football fans glued to their screens during midweek. So how does Liverpool and Barcelona, already billed as the real finale, stack up against each other.
The journey so far
The first fixture between these two teams would be at Camp Nou, the fortress of Barcelona. Liverpool have been highly vulnerable in away fixtures in Europe, as evident in their three losses in away fixtures in the group stage. They conceded 5 goals and could score only 1 in those games. Barcelona, on the other hand are almost impossible to beat at their home. They have scored a massive 15 goals in their 5 European games at Camp Nou. Liverpool ousted Bayern in their Round of 16 tie by scoring 3 goals at the Allianz Arena while Barca dismantled Lyon 5-1 at their home. In the Quarter finals Liverpool had a relatively easy tie up against Porto whom they defeated 6-1 on aggregate. Barca had a tricky fixture against Man United whom they defeated 4-0 on aggregate.
Attack - The massacring tridents
The fixture promises to be goal galore, but for their impenetrable defenses. While Barca have scored 23 goals this season in the Champions League, Liverpool have amassed 18 goals. The Liverpool trio of Salah, Mane and Firmino have scored 4 goals each and have assisted 4 goals in total in the UCL. Meanwhile Barca's magician Messi has alone scored 10 goals and assisted further 3 in the UCL. The form of Luis Suarez is a little bit concerning but he is more than a goal machine as evident with his build up play and 3 assists. The third player of the trio would be between Coutinho and Dembele, both of whom have scored 3 goals in the UCL.
The difference lies in their attacking positions and speeds. While Barca is much more dependent on the creativity of Messi and his linking with Suarez and Alba, Liverpool relies on the pace of its full backs and the forwards. Barca's incoming attack is almost equally distributed in the front, whereas Liverpool's attack is concentrated mostly on the sides, with only 1/4 attack coming from the centre, much owing to Firmino dropping deep and Salah and Mane rushing forward alongwith the fullbacks. While Barca's 40 percent shots have been from outside the box, Liverpool tend to move more inside the box, with 30 percent shots from outside the box.
While Ernesto would have to choose between Coutinho and Dembele to start alongside Suarez and Messi, Klopp has a much bigger task at hand. Firmino is doubtful for the match and thus he would be without the forward's midfield linking and assist providing abilities. He has to choose between Sturridge, Origi and Shaqiri for the game. Should he opt for Origi, most probably Mane would move to centre and Origi would move to the left side. A very rare possibility would be starting Shaqiri who has not started since late January, but should that happen Salah would move to the centre as he did in the start of the season.
Midfield - Battle in the centre
Oxlade-Chamberlain returned over the weekend but it's a very dim possibility that he might start, given the lack of game time and form. Fabinho and Adam Lallana are both doubtful for the game, but Klopp suggested Fabinho would be fit for the game. Going by both manager's love for 4-3-3 formation, Klopp would have some decisions to make. Should Fabinho remain unavailable, Klopp's favourite trio remains of Naby Keita, Henderson and Wijnaldum, all of whom started the last PL match. That leaves James Milner as one of the fresh options. He has been exceptional in the Champions League with 2 goals and 2 assists. He also helps the team with his endless and untiring pressing.
Ernesto on the other hand is almost certain to start Rakitic and Busquets in the midfield. He has to choose between Arthur and Vidal for the third position. While Arthur possesses the ability to provide defense splitting passes and does not give away possession easily, Vidal impresses with his relentless running and perfectly timed tackles. A substitute appearance for Alena is also possible.
Defence - Clash of two walls
"This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object"
One of the best dialogues from the Batman trilogy would be on full display when two of the most lethal attacks go up against two of the most stubborn defenses in the whole Europe.
With the PFA player of the year award winner van Dijk in their ranks, Liverpool possess arguably the best defender currently in the whole world. He leads the defense pack against Pique who is enjoying the form of his life. While Barca have conceded 32 goals in the league, Liverpool have just conceded 20 goals in the EPL. No player has been able to dribble past van Dijk this season. But his task would be cut out trying to stop Messi who has scored a staggering 44 goals this season to go along with another 16 assists. He would be most probably partnered by Joel Matip in the heart of defense who has impressed with his performances. The fullbacks pick themselves up in Alexander Arnold and Robertson who have a combined 24 assists this season and can leave any defense in tatters with their pace, while tracking back as and when needed. For Barca, Pique would be most probably partnered by Clement Lenglet who has made the starting role his own. On the left, Jordi Alba is the automatic choice and he would want to add to his tally of 12 assists, most of them to Messi. On the right position, Ernesto would have to choose between Roberto and Semedo, both of whom impressed with their work rate and effectiveness. There's a high chance that Valverde chooses Semedo, as his pace would be instrumental in checking the pace of Liverpool's fullbacks and his defensive ability is slightly better than Roberto.
Form guide and streaks
Barcelona are unbeaten in their last 22 games in all competitions and won the La Liga this weekend. At home they have lost only one game all season and that was back in November. Liverpool on the other hand have won all of their last 10 games in all competitions while they are fighting with Man City for the EPL title. But they have conceded in all away games in the Champions League this season.
This game holds special place for Luis Suarez and Coutinho, both of whom moved to Barcelona from Liverpool. Barcelona would hope to kill the tie in the first leg itself whereas Liverpool would try to take the tie to their by home where they would have their home support behind their backs. Happen what may, but this tie promises to be an elixir for football fans all around the world.