Liverpool great John Barnes has said his former club produced a “great performance” against Barcelona at Camp Nou, but will rue not taking their chances in the first leg of the Uefa Champions League semi-final.
Spanish champions Barca earned a 3-0 victory on Wednesday to hold a significant advantage ahead of the return fixture at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium on Tuesday. Luis Suarez opened the scoring in the 26th minute, before a second-half double from Lionel Messi – including a stunning free-kick – gave Barca a healthy lead at the halfway stage of the tie.
Despite the scoreline, Liverpool had their chances throughout the match, and Barnes believes Jurgen Klopp’s team now face an uphill task to reach the Champions League final.
“It’s going to be difficult for Liverpool because of course, if Barcelona score, they need to score five,” said Barnes, who was in Dubai for the DHL Swing Against Cancer golf event at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club.
“Barcelona won’t concede that many goals, but if you look at the way Liverpool attacked them in the game, the chances they created, they could have easily scored four or five goals. If they could have taken those chances, it could have been close. It’s going to be a difficult position to turn around but we live in hope.”
Liverpool are looking to win their first trophy since Klopp arrived in October 2015, and while their Champions League hopes look slim after Wednesday’s result, their Premier League ambitions are out of their hands, with Manchester City holding a one-point lead with two games remaining.
Whatever the eventual outcome of Liverpool’s season, Barnes insisted that it must be considered a great success, considering the enormous progress the team has made. Last season, Liverpool finished fourth in the Premier League, 25 points behind champions City.
“If you look at Liverpool in the Premier League, they have lost only one game all season,” the 55-year-old former England international said. “That’s a fantastic record. When people say that it’s a failure if they don’t win the trophy, I don’t agree with that at all.
“I will agree with that if you are 20 points behind the top, but if you finish one point off the top that’s a great season. You can’t ask any more from them.”
Barnes, who made 407 appearances and scored 108 goals for Liverpool during a 10-year spell, is confident Klopp and his players will use this season as a springboard for a sustained run as title challengers for years to come.
The best of Messi during Barcelona's win over Liverpool - in pictures
“If there’s one team that’s going to win the Premier League, it’s going to be Manchester City,” Barnes said. “But if there’s anybody to challenge them, Liverpool are the only ones that can. They have come so far and I would expect the same again next year.”
Given Manchester City and Liverpool’s runaway title race, it has been players from those two clubs who have dominated the individual awards this season. Indeed, 10 of the 11 players named in the PFA Team of the Year were either City or Liverpool, with four from the Anfield side.
Meanwhile, Virgil van Dijk won the PFA Player of the Year award, becoming the first defender since John Terry in 2005 to collect the accolade, following a season in which he has helped transform Liverpool’s suspect defence into the meanest backline in the Premier League.
Yet, while individuals have shone for Liverpool this season, Barnes believes their success has been built on teamwork.
“All Liverpool players have been consistent,” he said. “Last year, they scored a lot of goals but also conceded a lot of goals, that’s why they couldn’t get anywhere near to winning the league.
“Since Van Dijk has come they don’t concede goals - apart from last night (against Barcelona). But in the league they are strong at the back and good going forward. They are probably the best balanced team in England.
“So it’s not just Van Dijk, (Mohamed) Salah or (Sadio) Mane. They all have been instrumental in helping Liverpool where they are now.”