Tonight at Camp Nou, Liverpool will come up against two of their previous idols who, in moving from Anfield to Barcelona, were deemed to have traded up. The Reds’ class of 2019 now have the opportunity to show Luis Suárez and Philippe Coutinho that the grass is not necessarily always greener on the other side. Conversely, the South American duo could prove to their former employers that switching from Merseyside to Catalonia was a progressive career decision in terms of expanding their trophy haul.
Liverpool remain in the hunt for a domestic league title, whereas Barcelona secured theirs at the weekend with a hard-fought win over Levante. The bookies’ offerings would indicate that the victors of this potentially epic semi-final would be favourites to lift the Champions League trophy at Madrid’s Metropolitano Stadium a month from today. Our statistical analysis pores through the numbers to see which of these two giants of European football may have the edge.
Last six matches in all competitions
Barcelona: W5, D1, L0, F9, A1
Liverpool: W6, D0, L0, F18, A2
April was the perfect month for Liverpool, who won all six of their matches to maintain their Premier League title hopes and reach a second successive Champions League semi-final. They averaged three goals a game in that time, a figure boosted by last week’s 5-0 dismantling of a feeble Huddersfield outfit. The only two goals they leaked in April were Shane Long’s early strike at Southampton and one from a corner against Porto at a stage in their quarter-final second leg when the Reds were so comfortable that its concession was an irrelevance.
Interestingly, for a Barcelona team of such attacking riches and supposed defensive vulnerability, they have scored and conceded half of Liverpool’s total from their last six games. The one slight blot on their copybook was a goalless draw at relegation-threatened Huesca, a result that has since proven to be nothing more than a fleeting irritant before securing an eighth La Liga title since 2009. In seven games since shipping four goals in a manic draw at Villarreal, Ernesto Valverde’s side have only conceded once, that to Real Sociedad’s Juanmi, a former Southampton flop who briefly played alongside Sadio Mané and Virgil van Dijk at St Mary’s.
Barcelona v Liverpool in European competition
2 Barcelona wins, 3 draws, 3 Liverpool wins
Surprisingly for two teams with such an illustrious European history, they only met each other once in the first 45 years of UEFA club competitions. That was in the 1976 UEFA Cup semi-finals when an early John Toshack goal gave Liverpool a famous win at Camp Nou before a 1-1 draw in the return leg took the Reds into the final, in which they defeated Club Brugge to lift the trophy for the second time in four years.
Having waited a further 25 years to again meet competitively, the two clubs then came up against each other four times in the space of 12 months. Again it was in a UEFA Cup semi-final and again it was the English side who prevailed, a goalless draw in Barcelona followed by a 1-0 win at Anfield in which Gary McAllister scored a decisive penalty just before half-time on a night when the Reds gave a defensive masterclass. As in 1976, Liverpool went on to win the UEFA Cup in 2001, beating Alavés 5-4 in the final.
The following season, the teams met in the second group phase of the Champions League. Barcelona finally got the better of the Reds, outclassing them 3-1 at Anfield and scoring a memorable team goal in the process. In the reverse fixture, which took place four months later because of the needlessly drawn-out format, Liverpool secured a 0-0 draw that provided the platform for them to progress to the quarter-finals.
Five years later, the sides met again in the Champions League last 16, except this time it was a conventional two-legged home-and-away affair. The build-up to the first leg at Camp Nou was overshadowed by a training ground melee between Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise, but that duo were Liverpool’s scorers in a 2-1 victory against the reigning European champions. The Welshman chose to celebrate by swinging an imaginary golf club, the implement which was apparently used in his bust-up with Riise. Liverpool did their best to throw it away in the second leg and were grateful to the away goals rule for taking them through after Barcelona won 1-0 at Anfield.
Interestingly, in their four previous European ties, the teams have secured better away results in three of them. Also, Liverpool have never lost at Camp Nou, with Barcelona’s two victories both coming at Anfield.
A tale of two terrific trios
It isn’t just the hallowed histories of Barcelona and Liverpool which make this tie such an easy sell. It also provides a compelling showdown between two of the most feared attacking tridents in world football. For Barcelona, the mercurial Lionel Messi is ably assisted by ex-Reds Suárez and Coutinho. For Liverpool, the prolific trio of Mohamed Salah, Mané and Roberto Firmino often strike fear into opposition defences. How have the respective trios fared over the course of the season so far?
|Total appearances||Sub appearances||Goals in 18/19||CL goals in 18/19||Goals per game|
|FCB front 3||148||25||81||13||0.55|
|LFC front 3||139||12||65||12||0.47|
You couldn’t say that any of Liverpool’s front three have had a bad season, but their statistics (and those of pretty much any footballer in Europe) pale in comparison with those of Messi, who has returned more than a goal per game this term. He has made the fewest appearances of the six players in this comparison, yet has scored almost twice as many goals as Suárez, Salah and Mané. His 10 in the Champions League is only one more than Coutinho has netted in all competitions.
Looking at this tournament on its own, Barcelona just have the edge, primarily thanks to Messi’s brilliance. Remarkably, Suárez has not scored in the Champions League this season, the goal at Old Trafford in which he had a key role being credited by UEFA as a Luke Shaw own goal. Indeed, he has not scored an away goal in the competition since 2015. Van Dijk and co will be determined to preserve that statistic into next season.