UEFA Champions League 2018-19: Four talking points as Barcelona face Liverpool at Camp Nou
Some claim that this is the tie of the season and two mouthwatering legs await us. Both teams are in red hot form at present. While Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez have been dismantling defences in the La Liga, the frontline of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah have been in a league of their own. Each club can also boast of having the best centre-backs in their respective leagues with Gerard Pique and Virgil Van Dijk. Let us not forget the extra layer of solidity in goalkeepers Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Alisson Becker.
Barcelona have all the confidence needed heading into this fixture after they claimed a second consecutive La Liga title and their eighth in 11 years. They will take on Valencia in the Copa del Rey final later this month. With La Liga done and dusted, Barelona can solely focus on the UCL right now. The hunt for the treble is still on, which would be their third since 2008, a remarkable feat considering that it had only been achieved three times in the first 40 years of European football.
Last year Champions League finalists Liverpool are a whole different team right now. They are locked in a head-to-head battle with Manchester City for the Premier League, which would be their first since 1990. They look much stronger and more complete under former Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool surpassed the 100-goal mark in all competitions last weekend while Barcelona did it back in February. Neither team would have wanted to be drawn against each other before the final. The Reds can hurt Barcelona with their high intensity and fearsome frontline as Barcelona have been shaky in defence during the season. But if this season is anything to go by, Barcelona reserve their best for the best.
So can Liverpool stop Messi from bringing the elusive trophy which he had promised to bring back to the Camp Nou? Here are some of the talking points before the big clash.
#1 Klopp's gegenpressing vs Barcelona's Tiki-Taka
Yes, they do not play the same way as they did in the Pep Guardiola era but that is understandable considering that they have no Xavi or an Iniesta within their ranks anymore. But the Tiki-Taka is their legacy. Valverde is a bit more pragmatic in his approach compared to his predecessors but with Lionel Messi around, Barcelona still play one of the most impressive brands of football.
But if there is any manager or club that could hurt this Barcelona, it is Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool. With Klopp's gegenpressing, Liverpool would be counting on their front three to run the show at the Camp Nou. After all, Liverpool are the only English side to beat the Catalans in Spain.
#2 When the Unstoppable force Lionel Messi takes on the Immovable object Virgil Van Dijk
It does not get bigger than this. Newly crowned PFA Winner and centre-back Virgil Van Dijk will take on newly crowned La Liga champion Lionel Messi. It is a duel that nobody could afford to miss. Spain's top goalscorer, top assister, and top dribbler Messi will have his hands full against the towering Dutch, who has yet to be dribbled past this season in the Premier League and the UCL.
The last time Van Dijk visited the Camp Nou in 2013, things didn't end well as his old club Celtic were beaten 6-1. A lot has changed in the last six years and if there is any battle that could decide this tie. It is the battle between these two icons.