Barcelona suffered another shock Champions League elimination for the second season in a row, as Liverpool stormed past the Blaugrana at Anfield on Tuesday night
The Reds had to deal with a three-goal deficit from the first leg, but even though Jurgen Klopp had an understrength squad at his disposal, the Premier League giants pulled off an outstanding 4-0 win to go past this semi-final tie.
The one thing the Merseysiders have done may have won them this massive encounter. Stopping Barca stalwart, Lionel Messi, could be the most challenging task teams have to do today.
The Argentinean wizard has made all the difference at Camp Nou in the first leg although the visitors dominated the game for most of the time.
However, Virgil Van Dijk and Co. seem to have learned their lesson from the first leg and have dedicated their entire focus on the 31-year-old in the return fixture. And they indeed managed to close down one of the best players of all time, restricting him to two shots on target.
Messi was involved in Barca’s most dangerous attacks, as he was the one to serve Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho, and Jordi Alba on a silver platter, but the trio failed to convert their chances only to see their team punished soon after.
Everything the Catalans have done in this two-legged tie has only demonstrated what fivethirtyeight.com put perfectly in perspective with stats, Messi dominance in the game has increased but Barcelona is more dependant.
Numbers prove that Messi is more domiant than ever
During Pep Guardiola’s tenure at Camp Nou, the Argentinean forward has Xavi and Andres Iniesta commanding the center of the park, which enabled him to play in the ‘false nine’ role.
Xavi’s and Iniesta’s brilliance in the midfield area didn’t require Messi to drop deep to collect the ball and distribute it to his teammates. The famous Spanish duo was dictating the pace of the games with a style and class, feeding Barcelona forwards with pinpoint passing.
Backed by two of Barca’s most renowned midfielders, Messi enjoyed one of the most prolific campaigns of his career at Camp Nou.
Although Xavi left the Blaugrana soon after Guardiola’s departure, Luis Suarez and Neymar Junior came to town to help Messi to stretch Barca’s dominance in La Liga and Europe. The celebrated trio composed one of the most devastating attacks in the history of the game. Since MSN’s debut, the Catalans have netted 71 goals more than arch-rivals Real Madrid (367 vs. 296), establishing themselves as one of the most entertaining teams to watch.
However, Neymar greeted Catalonia to join Paris Saint-Germain, and Suarez turned 32, which forced Messi to step up and demonstrate his quality over the past two seasons.
This year, he has scored 34 goals and 12 assists in 36 league appearances to mke FCB yet again La Liga Champions, scoring more goals than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.
Messi’s fellow attacking teammates have failed to provide him much-needed support, let alone the fact his midfield companions often required him to come back to the center of the field to orchestrate team’s attacks.
Although Sergio Busquets (30) and Ivan Rakitic (31) undeniably possess the quality to play for Barcelona, the fact that they’ve already ended the third decade require the Blaugrana to inject fresh blood to their aging midfield.
Arturo Vidal has shown he is miles away from meeting Barca’s high standards, often failing to contribute in their tiki-taka game style, while Arthur Melo still has a long way to go before becoming a player Ernesto Valverde needs.
Therefore, Messi has been Barcelona midfielder, playmaker, forward, and executor throughout the 2018-19 campaign, making the whole Barca world spinning around his performance.
Barcelona’s defense is not solid anymore
From 2010-11 through 2013-14, the Catalans have emerged as one of the most dominant teams in the history of the game having dominated possession and controlled every single game they’ve played in that span.
Barcelona’s trademark during Guardiola’s tutelage was high pressure on opponents’ defenses, taking the ball away in the final third and forcing rivals to commit mistakes in front of their goal.
The focal point of Guardiola’s playing system was to control the ball and give the opponents no chance to threat the goalkeeper. And with Messi, Pedro, Villa, Xavi, Busquets, and Iniesta, such a philosophy enjoyed its pinnacle.
Barcelona’s devastating pressure was tormenting the clubs all across Europe, making the Catalans the most complicated team to play against.
Neymar and the young Luis Suarez have helped the Blaugrana to keep playing that way even though Guardiola and Xavi left Catalonia. Sergio Busquets and younger Ivan Rakitic have also given their contribution to the cause, but it has become evident they can’t cope with the intensity of the football anymore.
Although Valverde has tried to embrace this way of football at the beginning of the season, Barca’s defensive fragilities have seen them failed to keep a clean sheet in 11 straight La Liga clashes from early September to late November.
With Samuel Umtiti often sidelined by injuries, Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet have struggled to live up to expectations when left alone at the back, which has ultimately forced the Spanish tactician to change his approach.
Former Athletic Bilbao manager has opted to abandon Barca’s main stamp and go from high pressing to position defending. He has decided to drop deep when defending to prevent defensive bleeding, which has started to give results in the subsequent period.
However, a lack of pressure in the final third has left Barcelona powerless against Liverpool in their Champions League semi-final tie, allowing the Premier League giants to threat Marc-Andre ter Stegen more than expected.
Eventually, Barca’s apathy at Anfield cost them the Champions League final, leaving their supporters at the cliff edge of despair.