Phil Thompson admitted that Barcelona gave his Liverpool side a Champions League lesson.
The Catalans administered a decisive 3-1 defeat for the Anfield club in their opening Group B game in the second phase, making it a tough run-in from here on.
A daunting trip to face Roma in a fortnight follows and another defeat there will virtually end Liverpool’s European dream.
Thompson said: ‘‘This was a learning process for us. Barcelona played some great stuff and showed how to retain possession when they were in space as well as when they were under pressure.
‘‘Barcelona are an exceptional team with exceptional players. They are much stronger than when we beat them last season, and what you saw out there was a fantastic team of wonderful players.
‘‘It was a credit to our fans, who are very knowledgeable about the game, that they applauded them off at the end.’’
Thompson saw his unbeaten record wrenched from him by two debatable offside goals, but he refused to use that as an excuse.
The home players claimed that Barcelona’s first goal through Patrick Kluivert and the third from Marc Overmars should have been disallowed.
But Thompson said: ‘‘These things happen in football. Our lads reckoned the third was definitely off and they thought the first one was too.
‘‘You only had to look at Sami Hyypia’s reaction at the end to see how upset they were. It was a substitute linesman too, maybe it was a bit quick for him.
‘‘But the lads know they have played a great side, Barcelona must be among the red-hot favourites to win the Champions League.’’
He added: ‘‘After the match I spoke to the boss, Gerard Houllier, on the phone and said ‘sorry mate’.
‘‘He just told me to keep my chin up and to tell the lads how proud he was of them, as much for what they have done over a period of time than just the way they fought in this match.
‘‘He said that maybe it had something to do with the two-week gap without a game, it could have had some effect on us.
‘‘He also commented on the decisions that went against us, but likewise he just said things like that happen and you have to accept them.
‘‘But the fact remains that they kept the ball much better than us, and we had to work very hard to get it back. We have reached a high peak and we will only get better by playing a team like this.
‘‘My run had to come to an end some time or other, and it was against an exceptional team of high quality players. It was a high quality Champions League game and Barcelona played some great stuff.
‘‘The game changed on crucial incidents. Before their first goal, Emile Heskey had seen a shot kicked off the line 30 seconds beforehand, and just before their second, Michael Owen missed what he described as a sitter.’’
Barcelona coach Carles Rexach said: ‘‘If that Owen effort had gone in it would have changed the whole game, it was as close as that.
‘‘But I was delighted with my team. We showed our worth as a side and we have continued to play well this season.
‘‘We needed a big win against a big team to convince our fans that we can compete with the best, and I believe Liverpool are among the best. This win has shown our fans what we are capable of.
‘‘We ended up dominating the play against a very good side and stringing 12 and 15 passes together at times.’’