Philippe Coutinho suffers stage fright on Liverpool reunion but Luis Suarez seizes moment to haunt his old side as Barcelona take control of semi-final
It is always the way when old friends are reunited. Some act like nothing has ever changed and carry on as they did before; others are awkward, unsure what to do.
As Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho stood a few yards apart, waiting for this blockbuster Champions League collision to begin, you saw the two very different reactions of two very different men as they squared up to Liverpool for the first time since their respective Anfield departures.
Suarez was never going to suffer stage fright or let the good times he had on Merseyside affect him. He laughed and joked with James Milner in the seconds before kick-off but then the whistle went and he was transformed.
Philippe Coutinho suffered stage fright against his old club Liverpool on Wednesday night
But Luis Suarez shone for Barcelona and grabbed the opening goal with a neat finish
Snapping and snarling, chasing and arguing, the Uruguayan was exactly how the Liverpool fans remembered him. Suarez is the best number nine in the world and he would go on to show why with the opening goal, a key hand in the second and display of front running aggression.
Nobody could say Liverpool hadn’t been warned. On these pages last Saturday, he promised to celebrate if he scored and was true to his word. Quite right, too. This is the highest level of football, the feelings of others don’t matter when you are chasing the biggest prize of all.
So Suarez did what Suarez used to do. But what about Coutinho?
In that little episode, as Suarez and Milner nudged shoulders, Coutinho stretched his hamstrings and twisted his hips; he fidgeted and clasped his hands together in the manner of a pupil who was about to take a test he didn’t particularly want to sit.
The Uruguayan striker said he would celebrate if he scored and stayed true to his word
The previous evening, Jurgen Klopp had been asked questions he didn’t particularly want to answer for fear of creating what he described as ‘s*** stories’. Every little word around Coutinho now is amplified and his old manager had no wish to create more pressure.
Coutinho, to be fair, began with positivity. His first pass in the first minute sent Lionel Messi scuttling away, his second touch almost created an opening for Ivan Rakitic and there were shots in the 10th and 15th minute, as he looked to light up a venue that was shaking with emotion.
That £146million price tag brings huge expectation and such numbers ensure the locals demand show-stopping performances when the European Cup is on the line. Could he maintain the start? The answer, regrettably, was no. As the game got quicker, Coutinho became slower.
An incident before half-time summed everything up. When Coutinho failed to get in front of Liverpool’s defence to make himself available for a pass, Suarez erupted and his arm-waving fury perfectly demonstrated his fury. There would be no way for him.
Coutinho started brightly and fizzed a shot straight at Alisson during the first half
But he didn’t do enough to impact the game and was eventually hooked on the hour mark
Though he emerged for the second half, his confidence had gone and when Joel Matip dispossessed him in the 52nd minute the unmistakable sound of Catalan whistling let you know his time on the pitch would soon be up. Shortly after, No7 was told to come in.
In the 30 minutes Coutinho was off the pitch, he watched Suarez continue to run at Liverpool and, most importantly, he saw Messi produce a passage of play that left you gasping for superlatives. He is the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.
As Barcelona’s players celebrated at the final whistle, Coutinho stood on his own on the touchline, shaking hands with his old friends. There was also a poignant moment when Klopp embraced him and offered words of support.
Liverpool have improved since Coutinho left and Barcelona, of course, was always his dream. As it stands, however, it feels like Coutinho is yet to get over the leaving of Liverpool. Next Tuesday, as Barcelona look to secure their place in another European Cup final, presents another test.
Lionel Messi scored a stunning long-range free-kick to give Barca the ascendancy in the tie