May 2 – Rarely if ever has a scoreline been so misleading. But then rarely if ever has a team had a player of the calibre of Lionel Messi.
No-one could argue with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s assessment that his side produced their best Champions League away performance for two seasons on Wednesday despite a 3-0 semifinal first leg defeat that at times defied belief.
In the second half at the Nou Camp, Liverpool, last season’s beaten finalists, had more possession than Barca, made more passes and created a series of gilt-edged chances.
To all intents and purposes it was the perfect away performance – except that Liverpool came away with a mountain to climb in the second leg.
“How we caused them problems was outstanding and we controlled the game in the second half,” said Klopp. “But football is like this. It’s about scoring goals – and they scored three and we scored none.”
Even when they were trailing 1-0, it seemed only a matter of time before Liverpool, usually so clinical, would take one of their numerous chances. But they missed them all – and Messi made them pay.
While his first goal to double the score may have had an element of good fortune about it, his second and Barcelona’s third will go down in history as one of the most sublime freekicks of modern times even by the high standards of the little magician.
Few players could have even contemplated it – let alone pulled it off. From more than 25 yards, Messi curled his kick round the wall and into the top corner of the net with point-point precision, a fitting way of marking his 600th goal for the club.
As millions of TV viewers worldwide gasped in sheer disbelief at the technical and artistic brilliance of the strike, Liverpool ended the game in shock, having done everything but score. Even Spanish commentators said they had never seen Barca so pressurised on their own patch.
Yet when you have Messi anything can happen. Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde probably summed it up best, suggesting Messi was a freak of nature.
“Messi always surprises you,” Valverde. “He also does it in times when we need it. I don’t know how he does it.”
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