Luis Suarez admits he owes a debt of gratitude to Liverpool for helping him become the player he is and believes a warm welcome awaits at Anfield for the service he put in for the club.
The Barcelona striker scored 82 goals in 133 matches over the duration of his three-and-a-half-year stay on Merseyside, where he was loved by Reds fans and generally detested by all opposition supporters.
Much of that was of his own making, having been banned for eight matches after being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and then 10 matches for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic.
Suarez bit the hand that used to feed him after scoring the opening goal in the Champions League semi-final first-leg 3-0 win at the Nou Camp last week but he believes the reception he will receive on his return will be positive.
He has vowed not to celebrate, unlike last week, out of respect should he score in front of the Kop.
“Obviously it is special after enjoying a number of good years here and I am grateful to Liverpool for my time here and how they received me as player,” said the Uruguay international.
“I will always be thankful for that and the heritage of the club. It is going to be very special to come back here this time wearing a different shirt but I have lovely memories of my time here and my career at Liverpool.
“It helped me in so many ways, it helped me become more technical. When I came from Ajax I did improve but having players with great experience allowed me to be even better.
“Being captain of Liverpool was one of the proudest moments of my career. It is something I won’t forget. Playing in the elite with Barcelona was because of Liverpool and what they made me.”
Suarez is convinced fans will remember his record at Liverpool and respect him accordingly.
“I was here for three-and-a-half years and the team had been four or five years without being in the Champions League. In the last year I was here we got in the Champions League,” added the 32-year-old, who revealed canteen staff at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground had given him presents for his three children.
“So I think people know the work I did here. I think there will be more applause than whistles. There may be quite a few who are not happy but I think there will be more who are happy and grateful.”
Suarez was, somewhat harshly, criticised for celebrating wildly when he scored the opening goal last week.
He will not be repeating those scenes should he find the net at Anfield.
“Celebrating the goal last week, people who know about football, who love this sport, know about the importance of this,” he said.
“I have all the respect in the world for the Liverpool fans. Because I scored and celebrated with my fans, I say sorry.
“Obviously it is clear that if I score a goal against Liverpool I won’t celebrate it in the same way.”
Despite a significant advantage, coach Ernesto Valverde insists they will not underestimate their opponents and will stick to their principles.
“If we start to think about the first result we had it will be an error. We have to play as if there was not a game before. We have to play as if it were a final and the scores were level,” he said.
“It is going to be difficult. We have to be aware of the atmosphere here. We know the fans are going to be behind their side from the start.
“Every team has their own style and it’s always important to bring the game to your side.
“If a team puts you under pressure and tries to get you to play the way they want to play, that can put us in an uncomfortable situation.
“We want to have the feeling that we are in control. There is no doubt they will attack us, no doubt about that. We have to stop the pressure and stop them attacking us.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
It would take an almighty capitulation for the Spanish side to suffer elimination…but that’s exactly what happened just over a year ago on a fateful night in Italy.
And that doubts sowed by that shocking loss are one of the talking points ahead of Tuesday’s showdown.
SAME AGAIN FOR VALVERDE?
Barca boss Ernesto Valverde has one less option than he did for the first leg, with Ousmane Dembele ruled out of action after suffering a hamstring injury during the early stages of a much-changed team’s loss at Celta Vigo on Saturday night.
In truth, however, Dembele was highly unlikely to start an Anfield in any case, with Valverde instead wrestling with selection decisions of a different nature.
First and foremost is the question of whether Philippe Coutinho should play, with the former Liverpool man jeered off the field by a significant section of his own fans when he was replaced early after an hour at Camp Nou last week.
Coutinho’s removal coincided with a significant upturn in the team’s performance, with Sergi Roberto adding an extra spark of energy in his new midfield role after being repositioned from full-back while Nelson Semedo – the man introduced from the bench – provided more pace to deal with Sadio Mane’s threat down the flank for Liverpool.
So it could well be the case that Valverde starts the second leg with the same side that played minutes 60 to 90 last week, with Roberto in midfield and Semedo at right-back, leaving Coutinho hoping for a chance to impress from the bench.
BANISHING THE GHOSTS OF ROME?
Perhaps the biggest hurdle in front of Barca is the mental battle they face in overcoming the lingering demons from last season’s second leg quarter-final collapse at Roma, where Valverde’s men allowed a 4-1 first leg advantage to slip with a shockingly disjointed performance against the highly motivated hosts.
Although Barca again hold a three-goal lead in this tie and the scenario is somewhat similar, the big difference in their favour this time is the lack of an away goal for Liverpool, who would ‘only’ force extra time with a 3-0 victory, and that additional cushion is a big comfort for the visiting team.
However, throughout the last year it has been difficult for Valverde and his players to pass a single day without hearing the fateful word ´Roma´ thrown in their faces, and if Liverpool can grab an early goal it would easy for a panicking sense of “here we go again” to spread throughout the Barca team.
All the signs suggest that this year’s crop are made of mentally tougher stuff, and the way they withstood Liverpool’s powerful start to the second half last week was highly encouraging. But now they have to prove it, and banish the ghosts of Rome for good.
LIMITED ATTACKING OPTIONS
If the worst case scenario does arise for Barca and Liverpool take the lead to threaten overturning the deficit, Valverde will have to decide how long to react before he makes a meaningful change of strategy.
He was heavily criticised last year for failing to bring on Dembele at Roma until it was too late, but this time around his options have been limited by the injury to the Frenchman and the absence of other credible attacking options within the squad.
Coutinho, if he starts on the bench, could be one but, barring an unlikely opportunity for Kevin Prince Boateng, Valverde’s only other real option is Brazilian winger Malcom, who has received precious little playing time this season and would surely only be used by Valverde in desperate circumstances.
Should he find his team trailing, it’s more likely that Valverde will respond by bolstering his midfield with the addition of Arthur or Carles Alena to provide more control in midfield, or there will be the option of strengthening the defence with the addition of a third central defender in the form of Samuel Umtiti.
But if Valverde takes such drastic measures, it will only be because his team is desperately struggling.
Ernesto Valverde’s men take a 3-0 advantage from Camp Nou over to Liverpool and having rested their entire XI from the first leg against Celta Vigo on Saturday, the side is primed to finish the job.
However, Valverde did lose one counter-attacking weapon during their 2-0 defeat to Vigo with Ousmane Dembele missing the second-leg after suffering another hamstring injury.
And that absence could mean the Blaugrana boss opts for a more-conservative approach, forming the first of our key Barca tactics.
PLAY BOTH ROBERTO AND SEMEDO
One substitution turned the tie in Barca’s favour. When Nelson Semedo arrived on the hour for an ineffective Philippe Coutinho, the Portuguese slotted into the right-back slot allowing Sergi Roberto to switch in ahead of him and Arturo Vidal move out to the left.
A much flatter 4-4-2 allowed Barca dominate the middle areas and with Dembele out injured, Valverde must be tempted to field this side again. The full-backs will provide natural width, Lionel Messi can roam to create chaos with Luis Suarez the focal point.
This sound structure can jail Liverpool’s creation as they struggled to pass through it last Wednesday, while still threatening the other way.
Arthur is a very slick operator, but Barca will once again require the disruptive influence of Vidal on Tuesday.
Granted, the Chilean offered absolutely nothing from an attacking perspective in the first-leg, yet his aggressive production defensively was crucial. His five-tackles and two aerials won were a Barca high, adding in two interceptions and one clearance as well.
Should Roberto and Semedo start, Vidal will need to eliminate the threat of Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold and that smothering job requires hard running.
Vidal must be physical in these exchanges to ensure there is no overload, especially when Jordi Alba pushes up the pitch.