Having watched Manchester City nick a narrow win over Leicester which will probably ensure the domestic title remains at the Etihad, Liverpool must now turn their focus to the mountain they must climb to progress in Europe. Three goals behind after a first leg in which they were far from outclassed, the Reds must win this game by at least that much – more, if Barca score – to have a chance of avoiding elimination on the night. Should the visitors get a goal – which seems likely given their firepower – Jurgen Klopp’s men will need at least five.
Stranger things have happened, albeit not much stranger. Ernesto Valverde’s men carried a three-goal advantage into the second leg of last year’s quarter-final with Roma. However, the Italians had grabbed a late and seemingly futile goal in the first leg, and that away goal was enough, with a 3-0 win on home soil, to steer them through. Liverpool could not cut through in Barcelona, and thus have no margin for error here.
Liverpool vs Barcelona Prediction: Liverpool 1-1 Barcelona
If you set the best possible XIs from these squads against one another, then the concept of Liverpool getting the result they need tonight would be outlandish but not unimaginable. However, the three-pronged attack of Salah, Firmino and Mane is two players light tonight, with only the latter player available. The likely starting trio of Mane, Divock Origi, and Xherdan Shaqiri will strike less fear into the hearts of travelling Blaugrana fans, and although we can be sure of an incredible atmosphere at Anfield, Klopp needs all of the cards to fall in his favour this evening. We just don’t see that happening, unfortunately.
Our recommended tip: Mane to score
In the absence of Salah and Firmino, there is no doubt that Liverpool will be looking towards Sadio Mane as their most likely source for the goals they need tonight. It’s worth remembering that, as a Southampton player, he scored the Premier League’s quickest-ever hat-trick, notching three times in just 176 seconds. If he could do that tonight, the Reds could maybe even afford to let one in at the other end! More realistically, he’s 19/20 with Betway to score at any time this evening, and his superb consistency this season renders that a very good price.
The first leg of this tie may have put paid to Liverpool’s chances of progress, and much of the glory for that goes to Leo Messi. The home side went ahead after 26 minutes through former Red Luis Suarez, whose excellently-timed run allowed him space to finish from Jordi Alba’s pass. With 15 minutes left, the Merseysiders were still well in it, but then Messi struck twice in quick succession – touching home a rebound on 75, before dispatching an incredible free-kick just seven minutes later. James Milner, Firmino, Salah and Mane all saw decent chances for an away goal go begging, and that may have cooked their team’s goose for this season’s competition.
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Players to watch: Marc-Andre ter Stegen & Sadio Mane
With Liverpool needing to score at least three here, Barcelona’s goalkeeper ter Stegen will be a pivotal figure. The German international kept out chances for Milner, and hugely impressively from Salah, with the score still at 1-0 in the Nou Camp. He’s likely to face considerable pressure from the home side tonight, and one early goal against him could trigger an onslaught. If he repeats the form he showed six nights ago, however, the frustration he creates in the Liverpool ranks could be decisive.
As the sole representative of his side’s devastating first-choice attacking trident available tonight, Mane will have to produce an exceptional performance to steer Liverpool into the final. He’s capable of it, too, having notched 24 goals in all competitions this season. The Senegal international can finish with both feet and is a greater aerial threat than most people realise, while his back-heeled strike against Watford earlier this season seemed to defy all known physics. Liverpool will need his inventive brilliance tonight.