BARCELONA – FC Barcelona will try to make the most of their 3-0 first-leg advantage when they take on Liverpool, who will be missing Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, for the first berth in the UEFA Champions League final.
Besides Salah and Firmino, Liverpool will have to do without midfielder Naby Keita, while Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele has been sidelined due to injury.
Barça, led by star forward Lionel Messi, who scored twice in the first leg, will look for their 9th Champions League final and their sixth title and the first European title in four years.
Back then, in the 2014/2015 season, Barcelona clinched a triple of La Liga, Copa del Rey and UEFA Champions League titles, a dream that they are chasing again this season, having already secured the Spanish league title and being a win away from Spain’s cup title.
Barcelona is heading to the Anfield stadium with a big advantage, but they will have to deal with a lot of pressure at the English team’s renowned stronghold, often described as a 12th-player in addition to those on the pitch.
The performance Liverpool put in the first leg a week ago suggests that the English team will spare no effort and will try to impose the rhythm of the match, forcing the Spanish team to adapt to their approach.
It has already happened before at the Camp Nou stadium when Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde resorted to Arturo Vidal in a bid to match up to Liverpool’s power in the midfield at the expense of Arthur Melo.
In the first leg, Valverde counted on a three-man attacking lineup comprised of Philippe Coutinho, Luis Suarez and Messi.
With Dembele sidelined, Valverde has to decide whether to adopt the 4-4-3 formation or go for 4-4-2 and whether he is going to rely on the same midfielders.
If the match comes down to a midfield combat, Barcelona could face many problems while trying to set the pace and in this scenario, while Liverpool will try to move the ball faster onto the Spanish team’s half.
The Catalan team will seek out an early goal, as they did four years ago at the same stage of the championship when they prevailed over Bayern Munich in the first leg 3-0 and an early goal by Neymar in the second leg settled their nerves.
After the rest the regular starters were given a rest by Valverde on Saturday, they are all expected to play at the Anfield, with what playing system and whether Vidal will return to the starting lineup being the only questions left for the coach to answer.
The Chilean player is most likely to start, especially after Arthur Melo played the whole 90 minutes against Celta Vigo.
At the other end of the field, things seem to be more complicated for Klopp after the German coach said that both Firmino and Salah are not available for the match.
During the vital Premier League clash against Newcastle, Salah was hit in the head and had to leave the pitch on a stretcher, visibly hurt and in tears.
The worst possible scenario was confirmed on Monday when the coach said that the Egyptian player will be unable to take part in the match.
“It’s a concussion (for Salah), so that means he would not even be allowed to play. That’s it, that’s all,” the coach said during a press conference on the eve of the match.
“He feels OK, but it is not good enough from a medical point of view, that’s all. He is desperate and everything, but we cannot do it. That’s it,” he added.
Firmino, meanwhile, will continue on the sideline due to a muscle issue that kept him out of action for the past three games.
Both players have scored between them 42 goals and Klopp has to resort to players such as Daniel Sturridge who has scored only four goals this season and Divock Origi, who has found the back of the net five times.
The other option is to have Sturridge or Origi as a striker and inserting a fourth midfielder with Xherdan Shaquiri, whose role with the team has been reduced over the last few months.
Liverpool’s Naby Keita is also set to miss the game with an abductor injury he sustained in the first leg and will keep him on the sideline for at least two months.
Jordan Henderson, who was a substitute in the first leg, and James Milner are possible alternatives for the second leg.
Liverpool’s need for goals makes Alexander-Arnold the favorite to start at right back.
The Reds, who dominated the first leg but lacking the accuracy on the final touch, will be evoking epic wins at the Anfield stadium, where they scored three goals in the first 45 minutes of the first leg of the 2017/2018 Champions League quarterfinals.