Only two clubs have won more European Cups than either Barcelona or Liverpool. Each are tied on 5 with Bayern Munich, and each are bettered only by Real Madrid (13) and AC Milan (7).
So make no mistake, today’s is a real heavyweight contest, a meeting of two of Europe’s most celebrated and successful clubs, each with massive, worldwide followings. Many hostelries showing the game in downtown Montreal today, will be packed to the rafters between the hours of three and five.
It’s a bit like impregnable force versus immovable object as Barcelona go into this afternoon’s game on the back of 31 unbeaten at home, in Champions League play. Liverpool, under Jurgen Klopp on the other hand, have a pretty good record in two-legged ties. They’ve won the lot, that’s a total of 9, dating back to the 2015/16 season.
It includes victories over the likes of both Manchester clubs, Bayern Munich, Roma and Borussia Dortmund.
One significant reason behind Klopp and Liverpool’s successful run in this type of match lies with their abilities to get goals away from home; two at City, three in Munich, two in Rome, and so on.
It is five ties ago (v Porto, W5-0) since Liverpool last had to play their first leg away. Opening up with a trip to the Nou Camp of course be their most difficult challenge. Barca are likely to dominate possession, but the Reds ability to counter-attack with their potent front three of Mane, Firmino, who looks like winning his fitness battle, and Salah, is what makes them so dangerous.
Winning at the Nou Camp is an incredibly tall order, and you wonder if Liverpool will be haunted by their former stars, Suarez and Coutinho, never mind Messi, who is as supreme as ever. But they are capable and Barcelona must be wary.
Combining realism with his motivational powers, Klopp has declared that Liverpool will “suffer” in the Nou Camp.
“Will we be perfect? That’s not possible!”
“Will we make mistakes? Oh, yes!”
“Will we suffer? Oh, yes, 100%”
“Will there be moments when we have a chance? Yes, 100%. I hope we will use them - that is what we will try to do.”
Klopp, who took Dortmund to the 2013 Final, is insistent that his team’s thoughts are not on their next key Premier League match with Newcastle, stating, “ ... it would be a massive mistake to play Barcelona with 15% or 20% of your mind on Newcastle.”
He added: “I would say a draw would not be the worst result in the world, not that we go for it, but it would be OK.”
For Barcelona the big question appears to be who gets into Valverde’s starting line-up between Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, two players that provide very different options.
This would not have been up for debate a couple of months ago. Dembele was firmly in the driving seat, but a month-long injury lay-off, has let the former Liverpool man back into the reckoning.
Better performances from Coutinho throughout Dembele’s absence enabled him to keep his place, ahead of the fit-again Frenchman, for the second-leg against Manchester United. The Brazilian capped one of his finest Barcelona performances with a delicious strike, whipped beyond David de Gea, to complete the scoring.
Since the last eight victory over United, Valverde has rotated his squad in La Liga, a competition in which Barca have enjoyed a comfortable buffer. But perhaps the biggest clue to emerge on the Coutinho-Dembele debate came last weekend in the win over Levante, when Coutinho delivered a strong first-half performance, and was then replaced at the interval by Leo Messi.
Does this mean he was being rested in preparation for facing his old club?
It depends really on how Valverde wants to base his approach to the game. It’s a straight choice between the technically superior Brazilian, more adept at maintaining possession in tightly congested areas, or the more explosive Frenchman who provides greater counter-attacking qualities, not to mention an eye for goal.
Barcelona probably start the tie as slight favourites, but this contest is finely balanced on a knife edge. And it’s one where both sides will be out seeking goals. It should be quite the spectacle over two legs. Just the type of tie we’ve come to expect, when European Champions’ League comes down to its final stages.