FOOTBALL REVIEW: Liverpool vs. Barcelona (Wembley Stadium, 06/08/2016)
The Hype Train attended the International Champions Cup match between Liverpool and Barcelona at the home of English football, Wembley Stadium. Liverpool empathically pulled the Catalan’s apart and shipped four goals past the La Liga champions in a thrilling encounter that shows just how far the Reds have come since signing Jürgen Klopp in the latter end of 2015. With less than a week until the Premier League kicks off for another season we look at this memorable encounter, and also take a look at Liverpool as they look to start strong against Arsenal on the first Super Sunday of the 2016/17 campaign.
Liverpool vs Barcelona
Date: Saturday 6th August
Competition: International Champions Cup
Location: Wembley Stadium, England
Liverpool 4 – 0 Barcelona
Goals: Mane (15’), Mascherano (OG, 47′), Origi (48′), Grujić (90+3′)
It was a score line you couldn’t have predicted, with defeats to Roma and Chelsea in pre-season for the Red’s prior to their trip to Wembley you would have pinned Klopp’s men as the underdogs going into a fixture of this calibre. A lively, buzzing atmosphere that was very much in Liverpool’s favour was evident, this didn’t have the feel of a simple pre-season encounter, there was singing, chanting, Mexican waves that wouldn’t stop, it was electric inside Wembley Stadium. Two clubs with great support and great history battled head-to-head; there was also the joy of Liverpool fans being reintroduced to Luis Suarez who had created so many memories in his short spell at the Merseyside club. Joined by his high profile team-mates including Leo Messi, Sergio Busquets, Arda Turan, Ter Stegen, Vidal, Javier Mascherano, and Jeremy Mathieu it was hardly a weakened team fielded by Luis Enrique. Klopp also played a strong side with new signings Mané and Wijnaldum getting the nod to start against the Catalan club.
Liverpool XI & Substitutes
Liverpool XI: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Can, Wijnaldum, Lallana; Coutinho, Firmino, Mané
Substitutes: Manninger, Randall, Wisdom, Alexander-Arnold, Moreno, Matip, Stewart, Brannagan, Grujić, Henderson, Markovic, Origi, Ings
Barcelona XI & Substitutes
Barcelona XI: Ter Stegen; Vidal, Mascherano, Mathieu, Camara; Busquets, Arda, Denis; Messi, Munir, Suarez
Substitutes: Bravo, Masip, Douglas, Piqué, Rakitic, Iniesta, Mujica, Samper, Digne, S. Roberto, Alfaro, Vermaelen
The kick of proceeded after a spine tingling rendition of the iconic “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in front of Wembley’s second highest ever attendance. The Reds went straight on the attack, threatening from the right hand side with Mané and Clyne linking up well. This set the tone for the rest of the match as Liverpool dominated and outplayed Barcelona, winning most tackles in the centre of the park as Lallana, Can, and Wijnaldum formed an effective shield to stop Suarez and Messi getting much time on the ball. This pressing led to the first goal as Busquets was caught in possession by Lallana who stormed forward with Firmino and Mané for the first goal as the England attacker neatly played in Mané for his first Liverpool goal as he rifled past a helpless Ter Stegen. Messi nearly went close after Barcelona squeezed past Lovren, the Argentine striker hit the post and Liverpool cleared for a nervy moment of defending. Part from this the Catalan’s rarely threatened Simon Mignolet in goal who only had one other crucial save to make against former teammate Luis Suarez.
The tone didn’t change in the second half as Liverpool made a handful of changes, and before the 50th minute had taken a three goal lead. The first of the goals was taken by Jordan Henderson after more pressing by Mané and Origi led to a ball played into Jordan Henderson who forced Mascherano to stumble the ball into own net. Liverpool added to Barcelona’s misery and more intense high pressing from Kevin Stewart played in Divock Origi who clinically fired underneath Claudio Bravo to send Liverpool and their support into dreamland. After the hour mark Messi and Suarez left the pitch with a standing ovation and the game was buried after that. There were few moments of brilliance from Enrique’s side that still have two weeks until their domestic season begins, but they couldn’t play with Klopp’s side forcing them into submission at every opportunity. Should this be the way Liverpool play in the upcoming season then many clubs will start to readdress their tactics for when the Reds come to town.
Liverpool were not done though, in the final moments of injury time the Serbian duo of Lazar Markovic and Marko Grujić linked up for the first time as Liverpool countered once again, once Origi was dispossessed high up the field Markovic picked up the ball and played a peach of a pass to Grujić who expertly headed up and over Bravo to seal the win against Barcelona. This wrapped up a memorable day inside Wembley which was soaked in sunshine for the match, the Merseyside club can be optimistic with a performance like that under their belts.
Since Jürgen has taken charge of this Liverpool squad they have performed miracles against top opposition, and it felt very much like the ties against Chelsea, Manchester City, and Borussia Dortmund last season where Liverpool had proven strong against elite opposition. Liverpool can hold their heads high and look forward to returning in a week’s time where they face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. The message sent out by the Liverpool team was that they are ready to fight, and Arsene Wenger should be worried that they will carry the same intensity into the opening fixture of their season.
Liverpool Player Match Ratings
Here is how The Hype Train rated the Liverpool players for their performance against Barcelona at Wembley Stadium.
9 – Sadio Mané
8 – Roberto Firmino
8 – Kevin Stewart
8 – Ragnar Klavan
7 – Adam Lallana
7 – Dejan Lovren
7 – Divock Origi
7 – Marko Grujić
7 – Simon Mignolet
6 – Lazar Markovic
6 – Jordan Henderson
6 – Georginio Wijnaldum
6 – Nathaniel Clyne
6 – Emre Can
6 – Philippe Coutinho
5 – Alberto Moreno
5 – James Milner
5 – Danny Ings
We are picking out the four men who made the difference in this fixture, there were plenty of changes as it was a friendly, but it doesn’t diminish the impact they made against a club like Barcelona.
Sadio Mané (9, man of the match)
Injecting scary pace into the team the Senegalese forward was part-winger, part-striker as he would drop in and out of the role with Roberto Firmino in a loose forward line. Mané took his first Reds goal well after Lallana played him well after a quick counter attack, and his hard work and pressure on the Barcelona defence led to the second goal as he teed up the Mascherano own-goal. A starting spot now secured, the pacey forward will have a big part to play in the coming season.
Roberto Firmino (8)
The Brazilian is a player who you always question what he does for the squad for the large majority of the game, but when the quality is required he is a spark in the team with his stylish interplay. The forward who has been utilised as a number nine in Klopp’s squad pushed play forward and linked up with other players seamlessly, his starting role in the squad unquestioned at this point before the new Premier League season kicks off.
Kevin Stewart (8)
Strong on the ball, defensively solid, and really looked comfortable protecting the back four for Liverpool. Stewart played an important part of the squad that stifled Barcelona in the second half and even picked up an assist for Divock Origi’s well taken goal, he could have had another if Firmino put his late chance away too. The English midfielder will feel he could have a part to play in the upcoming season.
Ragnar Klavan (8)
Klopp has said that he didn’t buy Klavan to just sit and watch, backed by his manager’s words the Estonian has shown real quality in composure for Liverpool so far in pre-season. His experience and calm head was a breath of real fresh air for a Liverpool squad whose defenders are normally shaky at the best of times. The defender can safely say he handled the threat of Messi and Suarez well and he is look set to start the new campaign alongside Lovren at the heart of Liverpool’s defence.
Liverpool: 2016/17 Premier League Season
The fixture against Barcelona gave everyone an opportunity to see what Liverpool would be all about for the new season; implementing an attack minded 4-3-3 formation the emphasis on fluid, counter-pressing football is top of the list. A clear indicator of the starting eleven against Arsenal at the Emirates was also shown, and after the performance against Barcelona should be the team that goes back to London looking to start the season with a win. Arsene Wenger should be legitimately worried; his squad is depleted for the opening of the season and with no new transfer news or inbound reinforcements the Gunners might be on the same side of the coin that Barcelona was on when Liverpool turn up.
Should the Reds carry momentum into the season and pick up a result against Arsenal this should springboard their confidence for the season in which they are very much the underdogs to do well when the world’s media is focused on either Manchester City or Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. Liverpool’s performance against Barcelona is a warning call of the potential of the new-look Reds, who have no distractions in Europe, just like Leicester did last year. Klopp is still one of the best managers in the world and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if he were to build something more permanent at Liverpool, it really shouldn’t. Liverpool have one of the most lethal attacking units in the league once they are firing on all cylinders, and perhaps a consistent starting eleven could improve on that, there is no reason why Liverpool can’t compete for a spot in this season’s top four. It has felt almost too easy for everyone to only see success within Mourinho or Guardiola and their over-hyped rivalry, and that can work in Liverpool’s favour as they won’t be under the microscope unlike their rivals from Manchester.
The big worry for Liverpool is that they do so well against the top competitive sides and not so well against teams who sit back and just absorb the pressure. Nobody is too sure if they have the formula to break teams down that are putting ten men behind the ball. When teams open themselves up to Liverpool that is where the success if found for Jürgen’s men, they are at their best when exploiting the possession based teams poor passing which has led to their biggest wins under the charismatic German. Teams like West Brom, Watford, and Middlesbrough might be just as tough (or tougher) than the Manchester City, Chelsea, or Arsenal.
Other concerns come in the form of defensive cover looking very weak ahead of the season, there are now enough central defenders not to be concerned with, but with Jon Flanagan going on loan to Burnley there is every reason to be concerned if Moreno or Clyne get injured in the season. Moreno’s performances have also made him a target for Liverpool supporters frustrations, the Spaniard keeps making mistakes and it is only time before one more happens that tips people over the edge. The defensive restructure may mean nothing if one part is still not working in motion with the rest, and since Riise left Liverpool there has been a huge question mark hanging over the left-back position at Anfield.
Liverpool has a strong bench with many players that can create an impact on play, and looking past the heavily changed team that lost to Mainz on Sunday 7th August (Mainz 4 – 0 Liverpool), the Reds are in a position to have a strong season if they find some consistency. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic ahead of the clash with Arsenal, and there are also plenty of reasons to be pessimistic too. That is why Liverpool is considered underdogs this season; nobody knows what to make of them. Jürgen has had a whole pre-season to sort things out and it could be a new Liverpool side we see fielded to erase the memories of the timid squad that Brendan Rodgers left behind.