Camp Nou was treated to 90 minutes of simply stunning football from two tremendous teams on Wednesday night, and although Barça had to dig deep to find the answers, they ended up passing a difficult test with flying colours.
Every credit has to go to Liverpool, who had the home side against the ropes for much of the game. But while the Premiership side will rue squandered chances, the Liga champions took theirs when they came, and not only kept a clean sheet but will be taking a three-goal lead with them to Anfield when the action resumes in six days’ time.
Many had predicted an end-to-end classic and that’s exactly what we got. Pulsating quick-fire football between two top quality teams that weren’t afraid of going at each other. The sheer pace of the game caused problems too. It was scintillating stuff from both teams – the Champions League at its absolute peak.
Not only did Barça weather the Liverpool storm, but their own chances, albeit fewer, were probably the more dangerous. And with their opponents rattled by the loss of Nady Keita to injury, the blaugrana drew first blood on 20 minutes.
A perfect assist from Jordi Alba on the left and Luis Suárez was quicker than Virgil Van Dijk to poke home his first European goal of the season. And against his former club.
The 98,000+ fans in the temple that is the Camp Nou went into full fiesta mode. The goal knocked some of the confidence out of the visitors’ game … but only a bit. The action kept pounding thick and fast.
Through half-time and The Reds, decked out in white, kept pumping forwards. A series of critical saves were forced out of the magnificent Ter Stegen, while Barça were stuck in the unfamiliar situation of being the side playing on the counter attack.
Barça were leading but Liverpool were on top in terms of the football, and an away goal at this stage would have been a game-changer.
Instead, the game-changer came at the other end.
Leo Messi charged, the tackle only sent the ball to Suárez, the Uruguayan banged it onto the bar and there was Messi collect the rebound and walk it home. Just when Barça were struggling most, it was suddenly 2-0. The Camp Nou was absolutely rocking, and understandably so.
And there was more. Free kick on the edge of the area. Leo Messi. Straight into the top left corner. There are no words to describe things like that. If you are going to score the SIX HUNDREDTH goal for your club, that is the way to it. Footballing poetry, and 3-0.
The thrills kept coming. Liverpool didn’t stop believing. Just how they failed to find the net almost immediately after defies belief, with Ivan Rakitic clearing off the line, then Salah driving it onto the post …
It was hard not to feel sympathy for Liverpool, who desperately threw everything in search of an away goal. But in doing so, they left themselves hugely vulnerable at the back, and Barça let a number of occasions fly when they really could have put this tie to bed once and for all.
As things stand a three-goal lead at Anfield means a date on 1 June for the final is very much on the cards for Barça.