Champions League: Liverpool's clash against Barcelona at Anfield a litmus test of Reds' gamesmanship, management

Srijandeep Das
Liverpool find themselves in a situation where Suarez-Messi have a chunk of a 3-goal lead pulling them down, into the deep blue sea of obscurity that also-rans and runners-up must sink to

Now, even if you are coming out a seven-day Vipassana retreat, and you're a football fan, you'd be vaguely aware that Liverpool are hosting Barcelona at Anfield, with the home side today needing at least 3 goals to take the second-leg of the Champions League semi-final into extra-time.

Liverpool will have to cope without two of the pointy-prongs of their attacking trident. Mohamed Salah is being rested as a precaution following a head injury sustained at St. James' Park in Newcastle last weekend. Roberto 'Bobby' Firmino, on whose shoulders, the head of an orchestra conductor rests, will have to sit out of this one due to a flare-up of a muscle injury. In midfield, first-choice terrier-in-chief and a source of goals from midfield, Naby Keita will be out for a sizeable chunk of the next three months with a torn groin muscle. A less-than-full-strength Liverpool team will be facing a Barcelona side that has Lionel Messi. In the words of 1960's Robin of Adam West-starring television series, Golly gee whiz, Batman.

Let's unpack that analogy, you ask? Of course, don't mind if I do.

Liverpool find themselves in a situation where Suarez-Messi have a chunk of a 3-goal lead pulling them down, into the deep blue sea of obscurity that also-rans and runners-up must sink to. For instance, there was no movie made about the world's second biggest ocean liner starring Leonardo di Caprio.

There's no in-between. History, mercilessly, will forget one of the best Liverpool team of the last 30 years or it will remember tonight as a testament of the magical surrealism that pervades football, from the dirt patches of Haiti to the hallowed turf of Anfield.

If you ever accidentally tuned into an all-American supernatural reality show, where ghostbusters wear military-grade night-vision goggles to look for unexplainable cold-spots and ectoplasm in storied establishments, you'll get a sense of what Anfield will feel like for the visiting Barcelona team. A claustrophobic atmosphere that sends chills down Blaugrana spines is guaranteed.

Wikipedia defines 'ectoplasm is a term used in spiritualism to denote a substance or spiritual energy "exteriorized" by physical mediums. It was coined in 1894 by psychical researcher Charles Richet. Over the years, Anfield, on such nights, seemed to channel the ghosts of those who sang before. Such are the decibels, it feels like their voices are coupled with their daughters, sons and grandchildren who carry on the tradition. An invisible hand of suspended beliefs on the shoulders of logic has unnerved some of the best teams in the world.

Before we talk about the night in Istanbul, think of Juventus' class of 2005, a team Liverpool had to beat in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Picture a team with the artistic arsenal of Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram, Gianluca Zambrotta, Emerson, Mauro Camoranesi, Pavel Nedved, Alessandro Del Piero, (take pause to inhale)  Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 'El Loco' Montero, David Trezeguet, Steven 'Hurricane' Appiah (take pause to exhale). It was a transcontinental artist's collective, football's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Liverpool fielded a team that included Scott Carson, Igor Biscan and Le Tallec on the night. It should have been a hypothetical matchup between peak Led Zeppelin vs cheap knockoffs Greta Van Fleet at Earl's Court. It wasn't.

Juventus were destined to face domestic rivals AC Milan in the final. The same way Barcelona are destined to meet their historical progenitor, Ajax in the final. Liverpool said tut-tut, not so fast. Whatever the result, it was a spectacle which turns football into a soap opera of operatic levels of high-art. There are multiple subplots.

Former Liverpool cult-hero, Luis Suarez has promised that he will not celebrate if he scored at Anfield. He embodies the self-assurance this canny-cynicism Barcelona team have about them. A Liverpool team that is still coming-of-age suffered for their naivety at Camp Nou. Leo Messi won free-kicks at will and Suarez's impish movement between the Liverpool defensive lines had their lines turning the wrong way. This game will be a litmus test of Liverpool's gamesmanship and game-management. At Istanbul, they only had 45 to draw level on aggregate, but here they will have the backing of Anfield and double the time.

Barcelona will be playing with the plentiful patience of a pina colada-sipping, begoggled koala sunbathing on a hammock at a Eucalyptus plantation. One goal from Barcelona will make their lead unassailable as per the away goals rule. One Barcelona goal on Tuesday night and the end credits will roll on Liverpool's season.

Vincent Kompany's 30-yard spanker against Leicester City last night slid a katana into the pumping heart of Liverpool league challenge. The Champions League, unless something equally dramatic happens in the domestic scene, will be the only real chance to actualise the progress of this season into cold, hard silver.

"If we fail," Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp enthused, "we must fail beautifully."

"We have two of the best strikers in the world not involved, so of course we need the power of the crowd. The team chemistry will be a little undercooked, not having any time to train new systems. That's how it is but I am still looking forward to it. We are so happy to be here."

One such player who is elated is Liverpool teenager, Rhian Brewster. "He's ready," said Jurgen Klopp with unerring certainty. The boy will have the unenviable task to address the goal threat Liverpool have lost with the absence of Salah and Firmino.

Liverpool are not unfamiliar with homegrown heroes coming in the shape of precocious youth. The youngster will have the billowing wind of history and destiny propelling his sails.

"If we can do it, wonderful. If not, then fail in the most beautiful way. I had these games quite a few times," said Jurgen Klopp.

While Adam West's Batman was eventually cancelled, it was not without inspiring an entire generation of comic book writers, cartoonists and directors from Neil Gaiman to Chris Nolan by its death-defying finishes and plot twists. Liverpool's season, symbolic of that, can and probably inspire a whole generation of football watchers. Even if they lose, Liverpool will be beautiful losers. And that's really alright.

Also See: Champions League: Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino ruled out Liverpool's home leg against Barcelona, confirms Juergen Klopp

Champions League: Barcelona striker Luis Suarez thanks former club Liverpool for helping him reach elite level

Champions League: Lionel Messi stamps his class on semi-final tie as Barcelona gain sizable lead over Liverpool in first leg

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