Saturday’s heart-stopping win over Newcastle ensures that Liverpool will take their Premier League title challenge to the final day of the season, but first, they are tasked with resuscitating a Champions League campaign that had been gathering real momentum until last week. Barcelona were not nearly as dominant as the first leg score of 3-0 would indicate, but a team of their class and cold-bloodedness is impossible not to admire. This tactical analysis will preview the statistics ahead of an enthralling tie between two European giants.
Liverpool played well enough at Camp Nou to suggest that they are capable of causing problems for this Barcelona side, yet the absence of an away goal leaves them only one piece of brilliance from Lionel Messi or co from the tie being well and truly killed off. Also, the injury-enforced absences of Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino further complicate an already arduous task.
Our tactical analysis crunches the statistics and trawls through history to see if there are any straws of hope to which Liverpool can clutch ahead of tonight’s semi-final second leg.
Last six games in all competitions
Liverpool: W5, D0, L1, F16, A6
Barcelona: W5, D0, L1, F11, A3
Last week’s defeat at Camp Nou was Liverpool’s first in any competition since Wolves knocked them out of the FA Cup in the first week of January, while Barcelona became the first team to stop them from winning since Everton at the beginning of March. The Reds have conceded as many goals (five) in their last two matches, though, as they did in their previous nine. Also, having not conceded multiple goals in a match since the 4-2 win over Burnley two months ago, it happened twice in four days over the last week.
Having already wrapped up the La Liga title, Barcelona took the understandable luxury of changing their entire team from the first leg for Saturday’s meaningless La Liga trip to Celta Vigo, who took advantage to win 2-0. It was Barca’s first defeat since being beaten in the far from illustrious Supercopa de Catalunya by Girona in early March. Celta did manage to score more goals that day, however, than Barcelona’s previous eight opponents combined, with Ernesto Valverde’s side conceding just once in that sequence before the trip to northwest Spain.
Last Anfield meeting
Liverpool 0-1 Barcelona, 6 March 2007
This will be Barcelona’s first visit to Anfield in more than 12 years, having last been on Merseyside in the second leg of a last 16 clash with the mission of overturning a 2-1 deficit from Camp Nou. Rafael Benítez was proving to be a master of two-legged European ties for Liverpool, although the Reds were reeling from a last-gasp defeat at home to Manchester United the previous weekend.
Benítez went with the same line-up as the first leg and only Victor Valdés’ brilliance and last-ditch defending prevented the home side from extending their advantage in the first half. The likes of Messi and Ronaldinho were cutting subdued figures on the night, but it was one of Barcelona’s substitutes who made this tie very interesting.
With 15 minutes remaining, Eidur Gudjohnsen rounded Pepe Reina and finished, leaving the visitors needing one more goal to complete the turnaround. It was a nervy finish for Liverpool, who lost on the night but prevailed thanks to the away goals rule and were the better team over the two legs. Just as had happened to the Reds a year previously, Barcelona’s defence of their Champions League crown ended at the last 16 stage.
Three-goal second leg comebacks in the Champions League
In the 27-year history of the UEFA Champions League, only four teams have overturned a first-leg deficit of three goals or more in a knockout tie. As it happens, two of those four occurrences involved Barcelona, either as instigators or victims.
Liverpool twice produced three-goal second-half performances when they were required during their triumphant 2004/05 Champions League campaign, against Olympiakos in the group stage and AC Milan in the final. Tonight, they will hope to take encouragement from four teams who retrieved similarly perilous situations to the one in which they currently find themselves.
FC Copenhagen v Linfield, 1993/94 first round
The Northern Irish minnows of Linfield threatened to pull off a massive shock in the opening round of the competition’s second season when thrashing Denmark’s FC Copenhagen 3-0 at Windsor Park in Belfast, only to have that lead wiped out in the return leg. Devastatingly for Linfield, the third goal didn’t come until the 90th minute and they had nothing more to give in extra time, with the home side making it 4-0 to cap an astonishing turnaround.
Deportivo la Coruña v AC Milan, 2003/04 quarter-finals
Deportivo took an early lead at the San Siro in the first leg but were blown away by an outstanding Milan team, who scored four times in an eight-minute period either side of the interval to seize firm control of the tie. Kaká was the conductor of the Milanese orchestra, scoring twice and running rings around the La Liga outfit.
Surely it was asking too much of Deportivo to thwart the reigning European champions from there, but by half-time in the second leg, they were leading the tie on away goals, having scored three in the first half at the Riazor. Milan were shellshocked and, with 15 minutes remaining, Fran made it 4-0 on the night and 5-4 on aggregate to seal Deportivo’s passage to the last four.
Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain, 2016/17 last 16
PSG v Barcelona promised to be a compelling tie, but nobody could have expected the drama that would unfold across these two pristine cities. The French champions were in devastating form at the Parc des Princes, winning 4-0 on a night when Ángel di María scored twice. Even for a team as magnificent at Barcelona, coming back from there seemed too tall an order.
They did pull it back to 3-0 by the 50th minute of the second leg, offering real hope that the improbable comeback was on, but an Edinson Cavani away goal just after the hour left Barca needing three more and the tie again seemed done. It remained 3-1 going into the 88th minute when two quickfire goals from Neymar, then of Barcelona, levelled the tie on aggregate. The home side still needed another and, amazingly, Sergi Roberto got it in the third minute of stoppage time.
In 64 seasons of the European Cup and Champions League, this is the only instance of a team recovering from a four-goal first-leg deficit to advance. Barcelona v PSG in 2017 was the king of all European comebacks.
Roma v Barcelona, 2017/18 quarter-finals
A year later, the Catalan giants were on the wrong end of a European salvage operation. Barcelona appeared to be cruising after the first leg, taking a 4-1 lead to the Italian capital after Roma had scored two own goals at Camp Nou, although Edin Džeko’s away goal gave them slender hope.
The Bosnian scored early in the second leg in Rome and Daniele de Rossi added a second just before the hour. Roma were one goal away from completing the turnaround and they scaled the mountain with just eight minutes remaining when Kostas Manolas drilled the ball past multiple Barcelona defenders to give Roma the edge on away goals.
It was a performance that might give Liverpool hope tonight, but Roma were able to lean on the support barrier of an away goal. The Reds have no such safety net, unfortunately.
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