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King of the Kop: Liverpool and the danger they pose Barcelona in the Champions League

Ernesto Valverde’s side face a tough test in the semi-finals

Porto v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: Second Leg Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Going into the first leg of their Champions League semi-final clash against Liverpool, Barcelona have outclassed every one of their opponents despite having to endure one of the toughest roads to the last four of any side.

Starting their campaign in a tight group consisting of Italian heavyweights Inter Milan and Premier League high-flyers Tottenham Hotspur, Barca bested both opponents and came out as undefeated group winners with an impressive 14 points. After sweeping aside Ligue 1 Lyon with a 5-1 victory in the round of 16, the Catalan giants went on to humiliate yet another Premier League giant in the form of Manchester United, defeating them in both home and away fixtures and coming out with a 4-0 win on aggregate. While such results are impressive to say the least, none of Barca’s previous opponents have quite emulated the fine form displayed by Liverpool this season.

While they may have only scraped through the group stages, Liverpool were still able to top both PSG and Napoli in their home fixtures. Upon reaching the last 16, Liverpool silenced the Allianz Arena by toppling German giants Bayern Munich in a 3-1 win in their own backyard. Despite only having 42% possession on the night, the Reds made the most of their time on the ball with some effective counter-attacking football, producing 11 shots with six on target. Their quarter-final clash against FC Porto was even more one-sided, with Liverpool defeating the Portuguese champions 2-0 at Anfield and 4-1 at Estadio Do Dragao.

Liverpool v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

While their Champions League campaign has impressed many, the real talking point of Liverpool’s season has been their performances in the Premier League, particularly since they are in the running to lift the trophy for the first time. Not only have they amassed 91 points with two matches left to play, but they have also only lost one league match the entire season to Manchester City in January.

Mohamed Salah remains at the top of the Premier League top scorers charts with 21 goals and eight assists. Trailing by just one goal is Sadio Mane, while Roberto Firmino has netted 12 times and bagged six assists. In the Champions League, each of Liverpool’s regular front three bagged four goals in 10 matches, with Firmino and Mane managing one assist and Salah making two.

Porto v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: Second Leg Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

As a team, Liverpool have managed 18 goals this campaign, which is five less than Barcelona who are second in the team rankings. They have also had the sixth most attempts on goal in Champions League football this season, which is a high amount considering their lack of possession in a number of matches, particularly in the latter stages of the competition.

Defensively, Liverpool have performed consistently well since the start of the group stages, securing four clean sheets in 10 matches, with Alisson starting in goal each match. Even week in and week out in the Premier League, the Reds have dominated from the back, maintaining 20 clean sheets in 36 matches; the best record in the league.

Liverpool FC v Huddersfield Town - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Reflecting on their back line, Andy Robertson has had a superb season thus far, with 75 tackles in the Premier League; the 11th most in the league.

However, without a doubt, Liverpool’s star player for the season has been centre-back and Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk, who is the new PFA Player’s Player of the Year. He has won a total of 152 aerial battles, the ninth most in the league, and has made the sixth highest number of clearances as well as headed clearances.

In what has been a gruelling Champions League campaign, Barcelona are set to face what will be their sternest test yet. Expect plenty of non-stop action in what should be an epic encounter at the Camp Nou.

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