A surprising lineup
The starting lineup was surprising to almost everyone. Firminio not being there only opened it up to a few possibilities like does Origi or Shaq get to play etc. I think it is pretty safe to say that no one saw this lineup coming.
Which was probably a good thing as neither did Barcelona. They were not able to handle our press at times and the plan to keep the midfield crowded worked. Even after Keita’s injury and Hendo coming in, we were able to control the midfield.
The scoreline might not show it but this lineup worked. Liverpool were the better side for most of the game and had several chances to score. We were just not clinical enough and at the end of the day the difference was the finishing. It is very easy now to criticize the lineup and the tactics but no one can deny that the final score was not a true representation of the flow of the game. Barcelona was able to take advantage of the chances they had. Suarez converted on a great through ball while Mane overshot his… Messi tapped the ball in to an empty net after the ball hit the post, Salah hit the post after a goal line clearance.
No substitute for Firmino
I wrote about this a few weeks back and we have talked about this on our podcasts a few times as well. (that podcast is now on itunes as well btw so check it out!!) Liverpool need to find a way to have a backup to Bobby. With all the talk about potential transfers, one area we need to address is having capable backups to certain positions. The two players we cannot replace are Bobby and Robbo. Gini was not going to be the solution but perhaps was the most physically capable of doing the movement and defending Firmino does on the field out of the rest of the squad. Fans suggesting players like Hendo or Keita filling that role simply do not understand what Bobby does on the field.
Replacing a top player like Firmino is not easy and to be able to ‘replace’ him is perhaps not possible. We definitely need a capable backup though and this squad does not currently have one.
Messi is the greatest of all time
Lost within our Reds talk is how good Messi is. His free kick alone was proof of his greatness but his quickness, vision, and willingness to create for others is a marvel to watch. Definitely a lot less fun to watch him playing against Liverpool but any football fan has to feel lucky to be watching the game in an era with players like Messi and Ronaldo.
Playing defense against a player like that is extremely difficult and the Reds did well for most of the game by crowding Messi whenever he had the ball and limiting his runs by shielding his give and go attempts by throwing numbers at him. Klopp’s smile said it all after the free kick as not much can be done to stop that as greatness finds a way to prevail.
This was a game where we did enough defensively and converting at the other side of the field would have helped our defense as well. We were not able to finish though which would have changed the complexion and flow of the game as a whole.
Liverpool played well
Despite all the negativity with some fans, no one should be able to deny our overall performance in this game. The final score is nowhere near the representation of the play on the field. It only shows who was more clinical in the final moments and sadly that is what counts.
Liverpool were able to dominate possession and outplay Barcelona at their home field, which no other team has done. The second goal conceded was totally against the flow of play where the Reds looked closer to equalizing. Instead of capitalizing from their possession, the Reds gave away a cheap(and luck in terms of the lucky bounce) goal which was followed by a great Messi free kick.
You look around the field and it was hard to pick a Liverpool player who had a ‘poor’ performance. Workrate was immense and despite the three goals conceded, we did fine defensively by limiting their chances. We were able to create several chances ourselves but just could not finish. It almost hurts more to lose with that scoreline though after this performance. I remember the game we played against Napoli in Italy where we perhaps deserved to lose 3-0 or worse. This scoreline just does not feel right as it is not a true reflection of how we played.
There will always be fans who evaluate performance by the result. Perhaps it is understandable as it is a result oriented ‘business’ at the end of the day. As a former player, fan of the sport, and a parent to kids who play this sport competitively, I look and value the play as well. Which is why I find it hard to fault Klopp or the players for this loss. Klopp even talked about how he was proud of how the boys played. Scoreline might not make us proud as Reds fans but the fight and play on the field surely should.
Not over yet
While Messi’s ridiculous free kick made the task extremely difficult, Dembele’s miss in the final seconds left some hope.
Anything can happen in football and this team is capable of doing great things especially at Anfield. Stopping Barcelona on the counter will be the tough task as the Reds will have to take chances to get the goals they need. Liverpool has a history of some comebacks from three goals down. If we can do it in 45 minutes, we can do it in 90.
It will not be easy, that is for sure. If it is possible, I will always have hope in my Reds, especially this team.