Liverpool vice-captain James Milner has no intention of allowing their Camp Nou disappointment derail their bid to wrest the Premier League title from Manchester City – and he has not written off their European hopes either.
The 3-0 Champions League semi-final first-leg defeat in Barcelona was demoralising not only because the scoreline makes a comeback incredibly tough, but because it showed no reward for their performance.
Having kept Lionel Messi quiet for 75 minutes, Liverpool were undone by a late double from the Argentinian and the players now have to pick themselves off the floor for their crucial penultimate domestic match of the season at Newcastle on Saturday.
Win and they return to the top of the table and the pressure all goes back on City, who face an in-form Leicester on Monday.
And Milner is confident their focus will be spot-on at St James’ Park.
“I think we are used to playing games in quick succession and we’ve seen the character in this squad on more than one occasion over the last few years,” he said.
“We all know the character that is there. We need to be together and bounce back from that. I have no doubt that this team will do that.”
Considerable doubts remain, however, over their prospects of bouncing back at home to Barcelona next week.
If they can take any hope it is that Roma, whom Liverpool beat in last year’s semi-final, turned around a three-goal deficit against the Catalans.
Crucially, though, they had an away goal, but still scored three unanswered goals at home.
“Obviously it’s possible. If it’s possible anywhere then it is possible at Anfield,” added the veteran midfielder.
“We have seen special European nights there before and big comebacks. It’s going to be very difficult, we know that.
“We have to bounce back quickly from this with a big game at the weekend. Hopefully we can get a good result there and get a bit of positivity going into next week.”
The danger for Liverpool, as was evident in the first leg, is that Messi can be stifled for three-quarters of a game but still put in a decisive performance.
“He’s very hard to stop. He is definitely one of the greatest to have ever played the game, if not the greatest,” said Milner.
“When he does things like he does, it’s tough to stop. We knew that but we thought we could hurt them as well.
“You can’t concentrate on him too much because they have another 10 out there who are pretty good. You try stopping him the best you can when he is obviously on it. It’s very difficult.
“Many teams have tried different ways to do it. The free-kick was obviously pretty much from nothing.
“We have to focus on the positives from our side for the second leg. We created chances and we played a pretty solid game apart from the goals we conceded, which we could have done a bit better.
“But it’s going to be very difficult.”
Liverpool boss Virgil van Dijk is aware that his team can still go trophy-less after a brilliant season, but dismissed claims that it would be seen as a failure.
The Reds are now tasked to come back from a 3-0 deficit against Barcelona in the second leg of the Champions League.
If they fail to achieve this and Manchester City don’t slip up in the Premier League, Liverpool could end the season without a trophy.
Van Dijk has refused to count his team out of the tie and believes they have what it takes to punish Barcelona in the second leg next Tuesday.
“We’re not going to think about that,” he told DAZN.
“We’re having a good season and we will try to win something and, if not, we keep working.
“We’re in both races and I think many, many teams would love to be in our position.”
“Anything is possible in football. We definitely believe. That’s how we are,” he said.
“We will never give up and we showed today that we can definitely create big chances against them, the only thing is we have to try and score them.”
Halfway through the tie.— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 1, 2019
A big second leg needed at Anfield. 👊
Neither Trent Alexander-Arnold nor Andrew Robertson have Lionel Messi‘s star power, but the buccaneering Liverpool defenders could play just as vital a role as the Barcelona captain in their mouth-watering Champions League semi-final.
Virgil van Dijk has hogged the spotlight among Liverpool’s defenders with a superb campaign that earned the Dutch centre-back the Professional Footballers’ Association player of the year award.
Ahead of Wednesday’s first leg against Messi’s Barca, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold have emerged as essential contributors to Liverpool’s bid for Champions League glory.
With 24 assists between them in all competitions, England right-back Alexander-Arnold and Scotland left-back Robertson are pivotal figures in Jurgen Klopp’s game-plan.
Robertson’s 11 assists have equalled the Premier League record for a defender and Alexander-Arnold is not far behind, with nine, making Liverpool’s full-backs are as much wingers as defenders.
It has become the most demanding, tactically significant position in the Liverpool team.
Without Robertson, 25, doing the job of two players with his lung-bursting runs up and down the flanks, Senegal winger Sadio Mane would not have the freedom to move infield, from where he has scored 24 goals this term.
Mohamed Salah’s licence to roam from the wing is only possible because there is less need to track back defensively while Alexander-Arnold, 20, tirelessly covers every blade of grass on the right.
Klopp’s bold system has reaped rich rewards as rivals struggle to find a way to turn off the supply line fuelled by Robertson and Alexander-Arnold.
In producing perfectly weighted crosses for Mane’s double and a Van Dijk goal, Alexander-Arnold became the youngest Premier League player to create three goals in a single fixture when Liverpool thrashed Watford in February.
Then, when Robertson supplied Roberto Firmino with Liverpool’s opening goal against Tottenham recently, Alexander-Arnold matched him by crossing for Salah’s header that led to Toby Alderweireld’s decisive late own goal.
They are the kind of key contributions that have become commonplace this season and Robertson admits the pair’s friendly rivalry is spurring them to ever greater heights.
“I always try and go forward. Sometimes my passes don’t find people. But I do try and create. If I get two assists, I expect Trent to get three,” Robertson said with a smile.
“We all need to chip in with goals and assists. It’s not just the front three. It’s not just the defence that keeps clean sheets, either. It’s a team game.”
Kings of the assist 👑— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 29, 2019
🔴 Andrew Robertson
🅰️ 13 assists
🔴 Trent Alexander-Arnold
🅰️ 11 assists
The Liverpool full backs are changing the game 👏 pic.twitter.com/b0OTUtevH0
Liverpool’s unlikely heroes have taken contrasting routes to the top.
Liverpool-born Alexander-Arnold is the soft-spoken prodigy who still lived with his mum at the start of this season, such has been the rapid nature of his rise from the club’s academy
Robertson started his career in obscurity at Queen’s Park and Dundee United before joining Liverpool from Hull for £8 million ($10.3 million) in 2017 — a deal that Klopp says came at a time when “there weren’t 500 clubs asking about him”.
Now comes the acid test of the duo against Barcelona in the Camp Nou.
Inspired by the sublime Messi, Barca have scored more than 130 goals in all competitions already this term and wrapped up the Spanish title at the weekend.
But, while he acknowledges the threat posed by Messi, Luis Suarez and company, Robertson believes Liverpool should stick to their guns.
“We know we’ll have our hands full defensively but we all defend as a team and we attack as a team. If me and Trent have time to go forward, we will do it. It’s not going to stop us,” Robertson said.
“We know that we can create goals and chances, so why change that? But look, we will learn from the game and move from that and see how it pans out.
“It’s a challenge we all look forward to.”