Barcelona proved they are ready to do what it takes to win in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against English giants Liverpool. A healthy three-goal lead and a clean sheet means Liverpool need to score four goals without reply if they are to clinch this tie, something that is difficult but not impossible.
So let’s look at the three things Barcelona must do to claim victory at Anfield and proceed to the final of the Champions League:
Stick with 4-3-3
Barcelona did almost everything right in the first leg and need to stick with the same formation despite being away from home. Keeping a tighter defense will benefit the visitors as Liverpool will execute an all-out attack. Ernesto Valverde however, should refrain from choosing his go-to formation, the ancient 4-4-2, as it will require Barcelona more time to settle with the ball. This in turn can give Liverpool an unintended advantage as, against an unsettled team, a slight bit of pressure can take away the ball. The 4-4-2 has reaped rewards defensively, but it’s time the team sticks to the formation they have been using throughout the season.
Watch out for Liverpool’s flying full-backs
There is no doubt that Liverpool are weakened without Firmino and Salah but when they have needed goals this season their defence has stepped up time and time again. Their defence has contributed goals more than 35 times this season, just take their last match against Newcastle as an example. Centre-back Virgil van Dijk was on target, while Trent Alexander-Arnold picked up two assists as the Reds ran out 3-2 winners. Both of their full-backs have recorded double-digit assists and that’s tremendously industrious for a defence. They will rely on their defenders as much as they do on their attackers to score, and if Barcelona attackers nullify the attacks coming from the Reds’ defense, they should thrive. This also takes into account Liverpool’s superior quality as an indirect set-piece threat, as they have scored crucial goals via set-pieces this season. This means Gerard Pique and Co must be careful and try not to concede corners and free-kicks in dangerous positions.
Take advantage of Liverpool fatigue
Barcelona have already clinched La Liga and are into the final of the Copa del Rey which allowed Valverde to rest his first team against Celta Vigo. Meanwhile, the Premier League is seeing one of its most exciting title races in recent years. The title will be decided on the final day of the season, after Vincent Kompany scored a banger against Leicester City to take Manchester City back to the top. Liverpool now have to face Barcelona and Wolves in what will be decisive games for Jurgen Klopp and Co and they are dangerously short-handed and fatigued. Three matches in six days including a trip to Barcelona has surely taken its toll on the players and that is the biggest advantage Barcelona have over their opponents. While they were beaten at Celta and lost Ousmane Dembele to injury at the weekend, the majority of their players are fresh. Not allowing Liverpool time on the ball and keeping possession is not a problem for Barcelona, the real problem will be their reaction against the gegenpressing. It is perhaps the only way Liverpool can get to the ball but it will ruthlessly tire them out; it’s a conundrum and one Klopp will need to consider. Tiring Liverpool out will pave the way for more possession and goals and that’s what Barcelona should be doing at Anfield.