Liverpool travel to Barcelona for the Champions League semi-final first leg in what promises to be an epic showdown between two of Europe’s decorated clubs. Here are the Three Keys to this monumental clash in Catalonia. Bet on the game here.
Lionel Messi v Virgil van Dijk
Lionel Messi leads the Champions League scoring charts this season with 10 goals, including two in the 3-0 win over Manchester United at Camp Nou earlier this month that ensured his side’s progress to the semi-finals. Not only does the Argentine superstar score goals for his team but also creates numerous chances for them which turn into match-winning plays. If they will beat Liverpool in the first leg, much will be down to the little magician.
Virgil van Dijk was crowned as the PFA Player of the Year on Sunday. Few signings have had the impact on a football team the way the Dutchman has. A colossus in the air, his phenomenal ability to read the game and leading a back four in which consists of rampaging fullbacks is tremendous. If the Reds get anything at the Camp Nou, Van Dijk will play a huge role.
Barcelona’s possession-based style v Liverpool’s high press
Barcelona no longer play with the high press attacking football they used a few years ago. However, since their team is built around the Lionel Messi, they still approach the game with an aim to dominate the ball. This time, they’ll face a team which will want to rob them of that dominance by using a high press used heavily by their visitors on Wednesday. With the quality at their disposal, Barcelona shouldn’t have many problems keeping the ball.
Jurgen Klopp is a popular proponent of gegenpress. This is a strategy of winning the ball as quickly as possible when a team has lost possession. This style has been a success for Klopp and his teams but will it work at the Camp Nou against the favourites? They’ve already beaten possession-heavy Bayern Munich away from home and if this gameplan clicks, Barca will be in trouble.
Barcelona’s terrific home form v Liverpool’s lacklustre away form
Barcelona have lost just twice at home all season. Since October 2010, Barcelona have lost just one match at home in the Champions League drawing eight and winning the rest. Liverpool have a mountain to climb here and will need to be superb to break this terrific record.
The Reds have lost five of their last 12 European matches, with all those defeats coming away from home. Moreover, they have lost all three away games in this season's group stages. They have also won just one match against Spanish opposition in their last eight. Therefore, this is a tie they can’t afford to falter given the quality of the opponent and level of competition.