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Thursday 17 October 2019

Bravery is not enough to beat 'Leo' brilliance

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

The message from the Anfield camp, before a ball was kicked, was clear. No fear.

Taking on Messi, taking on Barcelona in their back yard, Jurgen Klopp (right) heading to the Nou Camp for the first time in his career, the stuff that would only be daunting if Liverpool allowed that to happen.

The Reds, wearing their away strip, were brave. They were fearless. But eagerness could only take them so far and they were undone in Catalonia. Bravery beaten by brilliance. Missed chances when Liverpool were on top, the lack of a cutting edge, cost Klopp's side.

So many times the football world was given a glimpse of just how good Lionel Messi is. Last night he was quiet (by his standards) for spells and then he came up with two goals to turn what was looking like a tricky night for Barcelona into a stroll.

Before Messi scored to make it 2-0, Liverpool were very much in the tie. A 1-0 loss would have teed up Anfield for a night of magic next Tuesday night. Now, the Reds have such a mountain to climb wit a 3-0 deficit that you'd wonder if bravery will be enough.

Klopp made a couple of big calls in his team selection, Naby Keita preferred in midfield to Jordan Henderson, though Keita had to come off due to injury in the first half, a disruption to the Liverpool flow which made a tough job even harder.

If Klopp was daunted by the prospect of a first-ever game at the Nou Camp, his side didn't show it. They were able to pose a threat, their best chance when Henderson's ball fell for Sadio Mane. It was a fast-moving event and Mane had only a split second to make the call and try to control the ball, as did Suarez when he was in sight of goal, but small margins define big nights. Mane snapped at his chance and the ball wound away to safety while Suarez's effort landed in the back of the net.

The goal scarred a Liverpool side who felt they were in the game at that point. The sight of a former Reds player scoring, and celebrating against his former club (was a character like Suarez ever going to not celebrate?) added to the pain, no consolation in the fact that it was Suarez's first goal in the competition.

He had drawn a blank in the Champions League before last night but the problem for Liverpool was, they were drawing blanks all night. That chance for Mane 10 minutes from the half-time whistle was one opportunity that got away.

There was more of the good stuff from Liverpool in the second half. James Milner saw a shot blocked and on 56 minutes Milner should really have scored, set up by a fine team move but the final shot from Milner did not equal the quality of the build-up.

As the clock ran down, Liverpool looked like the better side for a spell, Mo Salah relishing the big stage while some cool defending from Joel Matip showed they could cover as well as create.

But a stunning show by Messi in the final 15 minutes made the difference, two goals, his free kick a stunning piece of creativity which shows just why is the greatest at his game.

A 1-0 loss would have been a deserved outcome for Liverpool, but Messi had other ideas, had plans to punish the Reds for their lack of precision, and a final appearance in Madrid beckons.

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