Barça arrive in Liverpool hoping to prevent Champions League comeback
This time the Catalans are desperate not to be the protagonists in a European thriller
Football has a thing about producing the strangest coincidences. As Barça came back to England on Monday, desperate to escape starring in a comeback tale against Liverpool, it was 10 years to the day since one of their most legendary comebacks. And guess where that took place…
Exactly a decade earlier, Pep Guardiola's side were in the English capital, agonizing against Chelsea to come up with an away goal that would take them through to the Champions League final. Agonizing for 92 futile minutes until Lionel Messi worked the ball to Andrés Iniesta, who unleashed a 20-yard drive into the top corner to spark unbelievable scenes at the visitors' end, and even more so back in Barcelona, where a baby boom was reported nine months on.
"Ten years later, I'm still without words. What a moment!" Iniesta reacted on social media.
Ten years later, Ernesto Valverde's traveling party are the ones trying to spoil the party. They have come back to England – only a month after stealing another away goal, from Manchester United at Old Trafford – but this time, with a three-goal advantage to protect following a Messi masterclass at the Camp Nou, they want to avoid being victims of a comeback at all costs.
Their opponents have themselves made a habit of performing footballing magic tricks, the highlight being that night in Istanbul. In a game that has become a synonym for a miraculous comeback, Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso inspired the Reds to turn around a 3-0 deficit to AC Milan at half-time in the 2005 final and go home European champions after penalties.
Their manager Jürgen Klopp has already staged one epic comeback at Anfield when his men stunned his former club Borussia Dortmund with three unanswered goals in the second half, including Dejan Lovren's stoppage-time winner, to reach the 2016 Europa League final.
Klopp, who will savor the drama, has told his side to shock Barça or "fall beautifully".
Swings and roundabouts
In the last two seasons, Barça have been both creators and on the receiving end of second-leg heroics in the Champions League. Their 2017 quarter-final brought the best comeback in the history of the competition, as the Catalans reversed a four-goal defeat to Paris Saint-Germain to win 6-5 on aggregate and 6-1 on the night, leaving the home crowd unhinged. But last year was one of Barça's all-time lows, their 3-0 lead over Roma disintegrating in the second leg.
Perhaps the most significant comeback, however, might be of a different kind. Five years after he last set foot at Anfield, Luiz Suárez comes back to the club where he spent three and a half whirlwind campaigns. Could he be the one to close a Champions League chapter?