After a 4-1 victory at Camp Nou, Barcelona will look to wrap up the Champions League quarter-final tie with Roma on Tuesday night.
A recovery from the Italian outfit is unlikely but stranger things have happened in the knockout stages.
The remaining teams in the Champions League would’ve watched Barcelona’s 4-1 win at the Camp Nou back and thought – drawing them in the semis wouldn’t be the worst thing. It was a lacklustre performance with Messi well short of his best and Luis Suarez – though scoring his first goal in the competition this season – struggling as well.
Even the tactics were uninspiring with Ernesto Valverde choosing to play it safe, even deploying Sergio Roberto on the right side of midfield instead of the threatening Ousmane Dembele with Nelson Semedo starting at right-back.
Barca are starting to show signs of fatigue but the second leg is an opportunity to dispatch Roma in style and make a statement.
RAKITIC RENDERS RETURNING BUSQUETS A LUXURY
While it’s hard to picture Roma staging a comeback, exerting control over midfield could be key to extinguishing any hope of a revival.
In light of that, Sergio Busquets’ inclusion in the squad for the second leg is a welcome sight for Barcelona. The midfield maestro may only be along for the trip as an insurance policy should Roma grab a couple of goals.
However, that should be of no concern given Ivan Rakitic’s commanding display against Leganes. The Croatian was very much the deep-lying orchestrator on Saturday, registering more touches (129) and passes (115) than any other player on the pitch.
He also made four tackles and three interceptions – more than any of his team-mates. Busquets’ return is certainly a boost but ideally, the 29-year-old needn’t be troubled.
ROMA MUST HOLD OUT HOPE
Things look very bleak for Roma. Not only do they have an uphill task – to put it mildly – in the second leg but having lost 2-0 at home to Fiorentina over the weekend that saw them slip to fourth in Serie A, they’ve now gone the last three games in all competitions without a win. To compound their misery, they are set to face third-placed Lazio on Sunday.
What they can take encouragement from though is the way they played in the first leg. The Italian outfit were in control at the start of the game, restricting Lionel Messi and the rest of the Barcelona side quite impressively. They were undone by a couple of unfortunate own goals but up until then, the Catalans struggled to get the better of them.
With a little bit of luck, they may be in with a chance yet. A first-half goal for the hosts changes the complexion of the tie. Without losing their heads, Roma must replicate their Camp Nou performance to start with and then throw caution to the wind and hold out for a miracle.
Virgil van Dijk has lived up to his billing as the world’s most expensive defender in his short Liverpool career, but shutting out a desperate Manchester City in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday will be his biggest test yet.
Runaway Premier League leaders City could line-up with the most expensive defence ever assembled for their rescue mission, but they may regret letting Van Dijk get away if they fail in their mammoth task to overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit.
Liverpool beat off competition from City to sign Van Dijk for £75 million ($106 million) in January from Southampton, six months after their first attempt to land the Dutchman failed.
Jurgen Klopp was much-criticised early in the campaign for refusing to splash out on a back-up option to Van Dijk as Liverpool’s chances of challenging City for the title vanished quickly due to defensive deficiencies.
However, the German’s patience to get his prime target has been rewarded as Van Dijk has spearheaded a turnaround in Liverpool’s ability to keep opponents at bay.
“What we need at Liverpool are these kind of players who are leaders,” said Klopp recently on Van Dijk’s influence.
The Dutch captain will be examined to the full at the Etihad, though, where Liverpool lost 5-0 earlier in the season.
Klopp’s men were also thrashed 4-1 by Tottenham and involved in thrilling 3-3 draws at Arsenal and Sevilla as they were routinely torn apart on their toughest travels before Van Dijk’s arrival.
Often overshadowed by the prolific front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane at the other end of the field, Liverpool’s improvement at the back is not down to Van Dijk alone.
Despite their more illustrious history, Liverpool struggle to compete financially with Abu-Dhabi backed City’s budget.
Even Van Dijk’s signing was financed by the £142 million sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January.
But Liverpool have proved far more adept at finding bargain solutions.
City spent over £130 million on full-backs alone last summer in buying Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo.
By contrast, Robertson was a £10 million pick-up from Hull City, who were relegated from the Premier League last season, whilst Alexander-Arnold has been at the club since the age of six.
Alexander-Arnold was constantly targeted by City in the first leg up against the pace and trickery of £37 million German international Leroy Sane.
Yet, rather than being intimidated by the opposition, or the frenzied atmosphere of Anfield on a big European night, the 19-year-old right-back produced the performance of his career to date in nullifying Sane and winning man-of-the-match.
“It’s really pretty rare that Sane had pretty much nothing for finishing, making goals, stuff like that,” said Klopp afterwards. “It was outstandingly good, to be honest.”
Patience was also key with Robertson. The Scot found himself sidelined for the majority of the first half of the season until an injury to Alberto Moreno in December handed him a run in the side.
“He opened the door with open arms and explained what I needed to improve. He also said I needed time,” Robertson told the Daily Mail recently on a meeting with Klopp days after he had watched Liverpool taken apart 4-1 at Tottenham.
“I knew then what I had to do. I used it as motivation to get better and put the time in training so, when a chance came, I’d be the most prepared I could be to go and take it.”
Five-time winners Liverpool have waited a decade to get back into the Champions League semi-finals. But as Van Dijk shows, good things come to those who wait.
Disciplinary proceedings regarding the setting-off of fireworks, throwing of objects, acts of damage and crowd disturbances will be dealt with by UEFA’s control, ethics and disciplinary board on May 31.
Despite the incidents taking place in streets surrounding Anfield, Article 16 of UEFA’s regulations about order and security at games states “host clubs and national associations are responsible for order and security both inside and around the stadium before, during and after matches”.
City coach Manel Estiarte posted footage from inside the team bus which shows numerous objects hitting the coach to highlight the “unacceptable” behaviour of fans.
“No words. Unacceptable,” Estiarte wrote alongside his post.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola offered a sarcastic response to security staff after their coach sustained significant damage.
At least one window was smashed on the journey through streets filled with thousands of fans, a number throwing flares and smoke bombs, and a replacement vehicle had to be found the trip home after the 3-0 first-leg loss.
In footage obtained by Spanish television station Gol, Guardiola appeared to be unhappy with the arrangements for their arrival.
Getting off the bus in the area under the Main Stand the City boss gave the thumbs up to stewards and said sarcastically in Spanish “thanks for protecting us” and then “Shame”.
Merseyside Police have appealed for anyone with video footage to send it to them at [email protected] or contact Crimestoppers.
“We worked very closely with both clubs to plan for last night before agreeing the route of the buses to ensure the teams and public were safe before the match,” said Match Commander Superintendent Paul White.
“Two officers sustained cuts and swelling – one was struck by an object and another suffered glass cut injuries. It is pleasing to hear that nobody else was seriously injured.
“What should have been a celebratory event for thousands of people was spoiled by a number of people who threw bottles, cans and pyrotechnics.
“Their actions will not be tolerated by Merseyside Police and we will do everything in our power to find those responsible and put them before the courts.”
The focus will now inevitably shift, following Wednesday’s events, to the Etihad Stadium next Tuesday, and the plans which are in place to avoid any repeat.
Liverpool, who issued a statement of apology on Wednesday, will not say whether they will take extra steps to ensure the safety of their coach and players, but it is understood they are likely to have talks
on the matter before the match.
“The club doesn’t comment on any additional or exceptional security and safety measures implemented as pertains to its employees,” a Liverpool spokesman told Press Association Sport.
“This applies to matters involving first-team travel plans also.”
Arrangements for team arrivals at the Etihad Stadium are slightly different to other grounds, although both arrive on ‘protected’ routes.
The home coach pulls up outside the main reception for the players to receive an organised and staged blue carpet reception from supporters. The away bus arrives at a separate location some distance away from where home fans congregate and has a private entry into a tunnel under the stadium.
Press Association Sport understands, at this stage, there are no plans to put in place any additional measures.