The day has finally dawned: Barcelona host Liverpool in what promises to be a hotly contested first leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals at the Camp Nou. It’s Gerard Pique vs Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson vs Jordi Alba, Luis Suarez vs Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah vs Lionel Messi.
Barcelona have enjoyed success against English teams in the past, while Liverpool have shown consistent excellence and are eyeing a place in the final for the second year in a row. Although the Reds have their own weaknesses, they are not Manchester United and Barcelona must make sure every chance counts.
So, without further ado, let’s look at the three things Barcelona need to do to win against Liverpool:
Catch Liverpool in transition
Liverpool are a team who employ full-backs extensively for more attacking options as both Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have recorded double digits when it comes to assists. But when things don’t work out, they transform into a more defensive side and this leads to a transition where the full-backs have no option but to run behind. This is where Liverpool are vulnerable i.e. when they change their shape to defend. Which is why hitting them on the counter will require extensive usage of either long balls or accurate short passes and tremendous bursts of pace to charge at the open chunk of space (which is why Ousmane Dembele would be a preferred choice over Philippe Coutinho if he’s fit). It’s easier said than done but this opportunity arises only when Liverpool are caught in transition. Chances would be rare in the game as both sides like to play in the opposition half and have a fantastic ball-shielding mechanism so when this chance comes alive, Barcelona should make the most out of it.
Play a slightly deeper line of defense
While Barcelona have enjoyed a good season defensively, they have struggled against attackers who like to dribble past the opposition and are quick. The Blaugrana employ a three-man defense with both full-backs overlapping to attack and Sergio Busquets dropping into a back three but face problems applying the offside trap on attackers. With speedy attackers like Salah and Mane at the lookout, Valverde must make sure their preferred way of playing with a high line of defense is changed. Playing with a slightly deeper line of defense will make sure Barcelona are not caught in transition as much as their opponents, which will eventually limit Liverpool’s chances to rush towards the goal.
Use the space that arises from gegenpressing
Klopp has transformed Liverpool into a side that does anything to see more of the ball and gegenpressing has been the defining tactic of his managerial career. While it’s not the same as the one that was employed at Dortmund, it’s much more refined and watertight which has led Liverpool to score 84 and concede merely 20. Due to their positioning, they press from both sides which forces the opposing team to make quick decisions, which eventually leads to an error. The best way to beat Liverpool lies in breaking out their pressing system which will open chunks of spaces either in the midfield or in the flanks. While it’s natural to assume the Reds will employ more than one man to mark Messi, this will eventually open up spaces as the skipper moves dynamically over the field. So, it will be interesting to see how they plan to stop Messi yet close their gaps. Overall, if Barcelona manage to exploit the space that arises from Liverpool continuously pressing, Barcelona will have some wonderful chances to score and eventually win.