Analyzing Liverpool's Incredible Comeback Against Barcelona
Inspired by Liverpool’s amazing comeback I decided to write a short blog giving my thoughts on what we have witnessed. I, like many other football fans, did not give Liverpool a chance to turn this around after the first leg. I must shamefully admit that I even went as far as to argue that Liverpool would be better off resting most of their starters in the return leg so that they would be fresh for their final Premier League game of the season which they must win to have a chance at winning the title. Liverpool’s already slim chances in the return leg took another blow when it was announced that Salah would also be out for the game along with Firmino and Keita. Taking into consideration that it was at the semi-final stage and the number of key players that Liverpool were missing, I believe this is the greatest comeback in Champions League history over two legs, surpassing Barcelona’s comeback against PSG and Roma’s comeback against Barcelona.
From the start of the game Liverpool made it clear that they were not planning to go down without a fight. They battled for every 50/50 ball and chased down every loose ball with tremendous desire. Alba’s lapse of concentration with the backward header gave Liverpool the early goal in the 7th minute. This was exactly what Liverpool needed and what Barcelona wanted to avoid after last season’s collapse against Roma. The early goal gave Liverpool players and fans tangible hope that the comeback was possible. There was a fierce tempo to the game for the first 25 minutes after which Liverpool seemed to slow down a touch until half time. Barcelona had plenty of chances throughout the first half to get the crucial away goal but were unable to score. Messi, Coutinho and Alba forced Alisson into making a few very good saves. Liverpool’s hopes took another blow toward the end of the first half when Robertson, another key player, got injured.
The second half started with Liverpool once again showing tremendous intensity. Then, in the 54th and 56th minute, Wijnaldum grabbed back-to-back goals and all of a sudden Liverpool were tied on aggregate. Wijnaldum had just recently been brought on at halftime for the injured Robertson. After Liverpool made it 3-3 on aggregate Barcelona simply crumbled. The Barcelona players seemed utterly stunned about what had just happened. They barely created anything going forward the rest of the game and they struggled to string together passes which Barcelona usually does effortlessly. Liverpool also did a phenomenal job of not letting Barcelona regroup by pressing very high up the field and constantly pressuring the man on the ball. They showed remarkable fitness levels to sustain their press for the entirety of the second half. At this point it seemed like only a matter of time before Liverpool would get the decisive goal and it came in the form of an Einsteinian piece of creative genius from Alexander-Arnold. In the 78th minute, as he was walking away from the corner to let Shaqiri take the corner kick he noticed that the Barcelona defenders had turned off and that Origi was wide open in the box. He quickly ran back to the corner flag and took a quick corner that Origi instinctively slotted away superbly. When the Barcelona players realized what was happening it was too late to do anything about it. That was the decisive goal as Liverpool won the second leg 4-0 and advanced 4-3 on aggregate.
Liverpool’s attitude to never give up despite all the odds being against them was exemplary and serves as a life lesson that extends beyond the confines of the football pitch. The player’s manifested Jurgen Klopp’s passion and fighting spirit in a way that was truly inspiring. As Mourinho rightfully said after the game, this was not about tactics or philosophy it was about heart and soul. Wijnaldum deserves plenty of praise for the impact he made off the bench by getting two goals, as does Origi who scored the other two goals. Let’s be honest, Origi is nowhere near the level of Salah or Firmino but he demonstrated extraordinary character in this game and on the weekend when he got the late winner in Liverpool’s must win game against Newcastle. Another player that deserves recognition is Alexander-Arnold, who at just 20 years of age has already developed into one of the best fullbacks in the world and has been an essential piece of Liverpool’s two runs to the Champions League final. The imagination and quick thinking he showed in such a big moment when taking the corner kick is something you rarely see. Despite all these players that stepped up for Liverpool in the big moments, for me the man of the match over the two legs was Fabinho. He was given the monumental task of closing down Messi and he did as good of a job as anyone can realistically be expected to. Yes, Messi did get two goals in the first leg but none of those can be blamed on Fabinho as one of them was a fortunate bounce off the crossbar that fell to Messi and the other was a magical freekick. Fabinho imposed himself very well with his strong physical presence and hard tackles on both Messi and Suarez. Despite playing most of the second leg on a yellow card Fabinho was able to anchor the strong wall in front of Liverpool’s backline without being sent off.
Despite all the praise that Liverpool is receiving for their performance, Barcelona also deserves plenty of criticism for this failure. In my opinion Barcelona experienced the same problem that PSG has suffered from in recent seasons in a lack of leadership. Although Barcelona has experienced players like Pique, Busquets, Alba and Suarez that have won it all, no one took responsibility or acted as a leader. Their overreliance on Messi proved to be the making of their downfall. It feels like Barcelona’s players were all just starring at Messi the whole game in hopes that he would produce a moment of brilliance to bail them out rather then trying to make things happen and take initiative on their own. The only players that can honestly say they gave it their best over the two legs were Messi and Vidal. Once Liverpool tied it up it was also clear that Barcelona had no plan B and they were mentally defeated. Fingers also need to be pointed at Barcelona’s reckless wastefulness of good chances in both legs. At the end of the first leg they had three breakaways that were all carelessly missed. In the second leg Suarez also missed a one on one with the goalie at the start of the second half before Liverpool got the two quick goals. A goal at that time would have knocked the wind out of Liverpool’s sails. Serious questions will be asked of Valverde after this humiliating elimination. Even though he has done an admirable job with Barcelona in domestic competitions the manner in which they were eliminated from the Champions League in the past two seasons is unacceptable.
This victory sends Liverpool to the Champions League final where they will play against Tottenham. I think Liverpool are slight favorites going into the final, especially if they get some of their injured players back. However, with the way the Champions League has been going this year anything can happen. Once the dust settles and Barcelona rationally look back on their season I think it’s fair to say they have had a good season. Despite squandering a great opportunity to win the Champions League they are in a good position to win the domestic double, having already won the league and being in the cup final. Having said that, I do think they need to have a thorough analysis of what went wrong in the Champions League these last two years and what they need to do to address it. For all Liverpool fans and neutrals that had the honor to witness this extraordinary match of football this will surely go down as an instant classic and one of the great surprises of our lifetime. For all the famous Champions League nights at Anfield this one might top them all.