Roberto Firmino’s absence from Liverpool’s starting line-up forced an alteration to the Premier League side’s usual shape. Georginio Wijnaldum played further forward and at the apex of a midfield diamond in support of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané.
Arturo Vidal was brought in to partner Jordi Alaba down the left flank and pressurise Joe Gomez who was making a first start since breaking his leg last December.
Apart from those inclusions, the tactical shifts that dominated much of the opening half were Liverpool’s ability to limit Lionel Messi’s influence and press Barcelona into uncharacteristic errors when attempting to play out from the back.
Jurgen Klopp’s side looked threatening throughout the opening 20 minutes but Naby Keita’s enforced substitution affected Liverpool’s concentration levels and their opponents pounced.
Liverpool’s creativity in carving out numerous scoring opportunities was in stark contrast to their profligacy in front of goal. Frustratingly, and having enjoyed the better start, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah’s failure to capitalise on good approach work was eventually punished.
A rare moment of excellence in an otherwise fitful first half display saw the Catalans underline their class by conjuring up a superb goal.
Luis Suárez was once the darling of the Kop and scored 69 goals in 110 Premier League appearances. The Uruguayan continues to divide opinions wherever he plays but the manner in which he ghosted past Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk to meet a Jordi Alba cross and flick the ball past Alisson was a reminder of his undoubted class.
Strangely, that goal was Suárez’s first in this season’s Champions League and ‘El Pistolero’ showed he has lost none of his volatility by verbally sparring with Liverpool’s goalkeeper and defenders.
The current Liverpool squad is the most talented since Jurgen Klopp arrived at Anfield. Despite falling behind at the Camp Nou, Klopp’s team did not panic and had enough confidence to continue pressing their opponents high up the pitch.
Liverpool are a reflection of their manager; confident, relentless and begeistert (enthusiastic). Going toe to toe with Manchester City in this year’s Premier League title-race has infused a self-belief within a squad that knows they are capable of mixing it with the best in Europe.
In the end, it was the visitors crossing, set-piece delivery and shooting that let them down. A one-goal deficit would not have been insurmountable heading back to Anfield until an Argentinean maestro decided the tie’s outcome.
Salah’s late miss only added to the sense of frustration on a night Liverpool’s misfiring in front of goal all but ended their Champions League aspirations.
Barcelona struggled to contain Liverpool’s attacks during much of the second half and their remonstrations with referee Bjorn Kuipers served as an indication of their frustrations.
Not for the first time, Lionel Messi turned a European tie completely on its head. The impish manner of his first goal was surpassed by the genius of arrowing home a 35-yard free-kick for Messi’s 600th club strike.