LONDON • Barcelona’s team sheet at Celta Vigo over the weekend spoke volumes about how serious they are approaching the reverse fixture of their Champions League semi-final with Liverpool today.
Despite holding a commanding 3-0 lead, Ernesto Valverde opted to rest all 11 players who started in the Nou Camp victory.
He has every reason to be cautious, with last season’s quarter-final collapse at Roma – only the second time in Champions League history a club have come back in the second leg after trailing by three goals – “a scar” burned into the club’s psyche.
The Barcelona coach also knows a European night under the floodlights at Anfield is one of football’s most intimidating prospects, with Liverpool having the capacity and ability to conjure up a similar fightback like the Italian side.
That was why Valverde was so disappointed to lose Ousmane Dembele with a hamstring tear against Celta.
While the France forward was not expected to start on Merseyside, the “important player” would have been a perfect option off the bench with his pace and ability to drive at tiring defenders, especially as his team are expected to play on the counter.
According to Spanish daily AS, the injury is season-ending and Valverde admitted ahead of their trip to Anfield that “it is a major blow with the big games we have coming up”.
However, Valverde still has an almost full squad to choose from and, unlike Liverpool, who are locked in a tussle for the Premier League title with Manchester City, Barcelona have had the luxury to wrap players in cotton wool in domestic competition after lifting the LaLiga crown on April 27.
The Spaniard said: “We have the advantage of being champions already. Of course, we will try to use it.”
Talismanic captain Lionel Messi is also under no illusions his team “are going to a very difficult stadium” even though his team will be fresher than the Reds.
However, he has pledged to bring that “beautiful cup back to Nou Camp” as he aims to guide the Catalans to their first Champions League final since 2015.
The Argentina forward, who is gunning for his fifth Champions League trophy, has 24 goals in 32 matches against English clubs – more than any other player.
Messi said: “It is a very good result, but (Liverpool have) a lot of history, and that put you under a lot of pressure. We know it’s not over.”