After successfully defending their La Liga title over the weekend, Barcelona now look forward to one out of a possible four remaining challenges this year. The Copa del Rey final being one, the two legs against Liverpool, and if successful in those two legs, the Champions League final. Let’s take a look at the first two of these challenges, the games against Liverpool, particularly their lightning quick attack.
Barcelona successfully passed their Manchester United test against the likes of Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, and Marcus Rashford, but Liverpool pose a completely different challenge. With a counter-attacking lineup built to run at defenses all game, the leader of the trio is considered to be Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian international and reigning Premier League Player of the Year, Salah hasn’t necessarily recreated the heights of last year’s campaign but is still one of the most creative players in the world.
Salah has the pace, skill, and understanding of the game to consistently be found in the most dangerous of areas on the pitch. Pair these innate attributes with Salah’s finishing inside and outside the box, and he has the necessary traits to flip the tie Liverpool’s way at any point in the upcoming 180 minutes.
Moving to the left wing -- the pace, skill, and clinical finishing ability continue with Sadio Mane. The Senegalese international is another integral part of the Liverpool pressing system. Upon winning the ball back, Liverpool look to launch their counters immediately and Mane is often integral in the build-up to the goals Liverpool score. In order to effectively limit Liverpool’s attacking prowess, either Nelson Semedo or Sergi Roberto will have their hands full. Semedo might have the pace to keep up with Mane, but Sergi Roberto proved in countless matchups against pacy wingers this year, that his brilliant positioning on the pitch allows him to keep up with quicker wingers throughout.
Probably the most underrated of the trio, we must touch on Roberto Firmino, the Brazilian centre-forward. What Firmino lacks in blistering pace, he makes up for in his touch and build-up prowess. Similar to Messi, Firmino seems to know where to play the ball four steps ahead of the defense. With his near-perfect positioning and ability to link play from the midfield towards Mane and Salah, the combination of Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet/Samuel Umtiti will have their hands full with the Brazilian. In addition to his abilities in linking up, Firmino can also shoot powerfully on either foot and influence the game dramatically from his position.
Ultimately, it’s obvious that as Barcelona have continued in the Champions League, their opposition has grown stronger. Liverpool might be the best team they have faced thus far this year and Barcelona will need to come prepared and raring to go. The Camp Nou will be as raucous as it has been all year -- Messi promised to bring the Champions League trophy back to Barcelona this year, now’s the time for the squad to prove it to the fans.