Liverpool have the midfield to stop Lionel Messi… but they must watch out for Barcelona left back Jordi Alba
- Liverpool visit Barcelona on Wednesday for a Champions League semi first leg
- Reds will be keen to keep Lionel Messi quiet and they have the midfield to do so
- Left back Jordi Alba is another Barca star who could cause the Reds problems
- If Alba and Philippe Coutinho double up on Trent Alexander-Arnold it will be bad
I don’t want to tempt fate but I think Liverpool are better equipped to deal with Lionel Messi than Manchester United were at the Nou Camp.
They have to be concerned about Barcelona’s wizard, of course, but not obsessively so. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jurgen Klopp spends as much time working out how to deal with the runs from Jordi Alba at left back.
If Alba and Philippe Coutinho are allowed to go two-against-one with Trent Alexander-Arnold isolated, that does spell danger for Liverpool.
Liverpool will be keen to keep Lionel Messi quiet in Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final
Stopping Messi isn’t simple but if you’re looking for a midfield three to do the job, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Gino Wijnaldum would be near the top of the list.
All of them are what I’d call proper midfielders in that they have natural defensive instincts. They sniff out potential trouble ahead of time; which player needs marking, what space needs condensing.
Paul Pogba has his qualities but I feel he’s more reactive than proactive defensively. Messi scored twice when United were beaten 3-0 in Spain and though both of his goals could be put down to individual errors, Barcelona were given space to penetrate in the final third that Liverpool won’t allow.
Even if Klopp can’t name his favoured three, he has other options in Naby Keita and James Milner, who have the athleticism and positional sense to deal with threats.
Even with someone of Messi’s genius, the biggest element for a midfield trying to protect their goal is the distances between you. Instead of concentrating on the ability of one opponent, ensure you aren’t too spread out when Barcelona have the ball.
With midfielders like Fabinho, Liverpool have the personnel to limit Messi’s impact
That’s why I believe Liverpool should play their normal game. They have an excellent defensive record for a reason and Virgil van Dijk will be constantly chatting to his team-mates, telling them if Messi is coming as a live threat.
I don’t see the benefit in going man-to-man. Condense the space and if Messi ends up dropping too deep, that will suit Liverpool.
I’m sure Klopp will also make his players aware of other Barcelona threats besides Messi. I think they have to be careful in the wide areas because Jordi Alba likes to bomb forward and the strengths of Sadio Mane and Mo Salah are going the other way.
If Alba is in advance of the Liverpool wingers and Coutinho cuts in from the left, it will give Alexander-Arnold a major headache. I think Henderson or someone like him might be detailed to be vigilant and move across to double up with the Liverpool right back when required.
The Reds must also be wary of Barcelona left back Jordi Alba, who is an excellent attacker
That way, Liverpool will effectively defend with seven and let the three quick forwards try to cause havoc on the break.
I think playing at Barcelona will suit Liverpool’s style. Keita, Milner, Wijnaldum, any of the midfielders can get up and down the pitch. They won’t be exposed, there won’t be gaping holes for Barcelona to run into, as we occasionally saw against United.
Liverpool will be happy to let Barcelona have the ball and when it turns over, they have the pace in Mane and Salah to exploit the home side.
We are talking about how Klopp deals with Messi, but Barca will also be worried about Salah and whether they should adapt their own natural game. Barca will want to take a first leg lead to Anfield but if they go hell for leather, the counter-attack danger is there.
WHO WILL COME OUT ON TOP WHEN MESSI MEETS VAN DIJK?
22 Dribbles completed by Messi in the Champions League this season – no Barca player has completed more.
0 — Number of times Van Dijk has been dribbled past in the Premier and Champions League this season.
Virgil van Dijk has been in sensational form for Liverpool but facing Messi will be a test
…but how do you mark Messi when he’s in this mood?
Messi had the freedom of the Nou Camp against Manchester United in their second leg. His touch map (below) shows just how difficult he is to contain.