Liverpool traveled to the Camp Nou to bring the game to Barcelona, but the Catalans stormed away with a three goal win. The results could’ve been much different had Liverpool not been extremely wasteful, but in the clutch Barcelona’s best performers stepped up and secured the 1st Leg advantage. Luis Suarez put Barcelona in the lead in the first half and Lionel Messi fired twice in the second, including a stunner from a free kick.
Both lineups looker largely as expected, though Roberto Firmino wasn’t deemed fit enough to start the match and was therefore replaced by Georginio Wijnaldum in the starting XI. For Barcelona, the only surprise came in midfield where Arturo Vidal started instead of Arthur. Philippe Coutinho opened the match on the left wing.
Liverpool tried to pin Barcelona deep from the opening whistle to varying degrees of success. The visitors threated through Mohamed Salah in the 2nd minute after a Jordi Alba turnover, but the Catalan defense recovered. Shortly thereafter, Messi and Ivan Rakitić combined beautifully on the left side of the area and the latter was sent on goal. With an option to take the shot, the Croatian instead tried to set up the wide open Vidal in the middle, but the ball was cleared away.
The visitors were very lively in all areas of the pitch. Barcelona oftentimes attempted to calm the pace through possession play, but the results were mixed. Neither side went on a full offensive in the early going, but Liverpool were looking more dangerous. But Barcelona were also picking up the pace, and in the 14th minute the Catalans had a penalty claim turned away – after Joël Matip palmed the ball away. The very next minute Messi led a counter-attack that Coutinho finished with a curling effort, but Alisson made the save.
The back-and-forth action continued in the Barcelona area in the 19th minute. Gerard Pique carelessly gave the ball away just outside of the area and gave up a free kick. Numerous battles ensued in the box, but Barcelona were able to clear. A lengthier stoppage came around the 20 minute mark when Naby Keïta was left down with what appeared to be a groin injury. Jordan Henderson quickly started to warm up and replaced the midfielder in the 23rd minute.
Liverpool continued to buzz in the Barcelona third as the Catalans struggled to cope with the quickness and speed of the front three. With Arthur on the bench, the hosts also didn’t have much success in possession. The Brazilian’s calmness and vision were clearly missing. But then, seemingly out of nowhere – after the first time Barcelona managed to spend some time with the ball at their feet. The play started on the right wing and with a well-placed pass from Vidal moved to the left side to Coutinho. The Brazilian played the ball back to Alba who immediately surveyed the area and found Suarez running into space. Alba sent a perfect diagonal pass into the area for Suarez to run on to and accurately redirect the ball past Alisson for his first Champions League goal of the season and the lead.
The goal opened the game even more. Liverpool were clearly going for the all-important away goal, while Barcelona suddenly showed more confidence. Liverpool continued to create good looks in attack, but the final pass continually missed its target. Barcelona looked to add to their lead on the counter attack, but their half-chances also couldn’t find the final touch. The visitors created their best chance of the half in the 35th minute when Salah brilliantly found Sadio Mané who sped past the Barcelona defense, but the Senegal international missed badly.
Salah and James Milner tried their luck from distance shortly thereafter, but the former was blocked while the latter missed wide. Liverpool’s press on the ball-carrier was also intensifying. The high tempo of entertaining football continued up until the halftime whistle, but the score wouldn’t change before the break. While both sides looked dangerous in the opening 45 minutes, only two shots went on goal, both coming from Barcelona.
The second half kicked off with Barcelona in possession and no changes being made during the break. Liverpool came out with a lot of energy and less than two minutes after the restart Wijnaldum set up Milner for a shot from the left side, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen made his first save of the night in panther-like fashion. Five minutes later, the German made another excellent save, this time on Salah’s well-placed low shot. Then the visitors had a dangerous free kick from a “short corner”, but the defense cleared.
Barcelona allowed Liverpool to control the game in the second half, and were hoping to create chances on the counter attack, but their passing left much to be desired. Liverpool on the other hand were getting closer and closer, with Salah creating another chance in the 59th minute, this one for Milner who ran onto a perfect pass, but the Englishman’s powerful shot was right at ter Stegen.
At the one-hour mark, Ernesto Valverde made his first substitution, replacing Coutinho with Nelson Semedo, resulting in Sergi Roberto moving higher up the pitch. After the change, Barcelona started showing more life once again, creating an excellent look in the 63rd minute after a deep turnover. Messi found Vidal in space on the left side, but the Chilean tried to force the ball to the middle to Suarez instead of taking the shot, resulting in an easy clearance. Moments later another turnover showed promise, but again Barcelona couldn’t threaten Alisson.
Barcelona first prolonged stretch inside Liverpool’s third was short lived and the visitors returned to pin Barcelona deep. In possession the hosts looked very pedestrian, and numerous quick turnovers allowed Liverpool long stretches in attack. But despite Liverpool’s positive play, it would be Barcelona that would score the next goal. Finally they were able step on the ball and quickly attacked through the heart of the defense. A fortuitous bounce aided Barcelona’s efforts, but in the end the ball reached Suarez who from a tough spot – he had to take the shot with his thigh – beat Alisson, but saw his try bounce off the crossbar. The rebound fell right to Messi who controlled it with his chest before tapping it into the empty net.
In the 79th minute Firmino replaced Wijnaldum. But Barcelona were smelling blood and quickly returned to the offensive. Moments after the substitution, Alba sent a very dangerous cross into the area, but nothing would come of it. Messi stepped up to take a 30-yard free kick in the 82nd minute and in absolutely stunning and unstoppable fashion beat Alisson to make it 3-0. The free kick was so perfectly placed into Alisson’s top right corner that not even the extra yard or two in distance didn’t matter. The tally also marked Messi’s 600th goal for Barcelona – 14 years to the day after scoring his first.
Liverpool almost replied immediately, after a terrible Sergio Busquets turnover. Mané powered his way between two defenders, beat ter Stegen with his shot, but saw it cleared off the line brilliantly by Rakitić. The rebound, however, fell right to Salah who powered a shot on goal, but was denied by the near post.
The visitors were in desperate need of an away goal and the last substitution signaled that as Divock Origi replaced Milner. The visitors were attacking with everything they had, but Barcelona were hanging on. Amid Liverpool’s greatest pressure, Barcelona went on a three-on-one counter attack, but Messi, Suarez and Alba couldn’t finish the play with a goal. Before the following corner kick Valverde made a double change, taking off Suarez and Roberto, and replacing them with Ousmane Dembele and Carles Alena.
With time running out, Barcelona were in full time-wasting mode. But looking to add one more remained in their mentality. In the fifth minute of added time Messi sprung Rakitić on the counter attack, but he and Dembele couldn’t test Alisson as the Frenchman’s shot missed high and wide. Dembele had one more glorious chance in the final minute, after a nice combination with Messi, but maybe distracted just enough by Pique in front of him, the youngster’s shot went right at the goalkeeper.
The full-time whistle came immediately after and Barcelona secured a massive lead going into the second leg next week. La Liga action is coming up on Saturday, but with the Spanish title already secured a highly different lineup should be in action.