Liverpool Opinion: Joel Matip was a standout performer in the 3-0 defeat to Barcelona
Liverpool came into the game on the back of 10 consecutive victories in all competitions and the Reds adopted an attacking approach against the Spanish giants but Jurgen Klopp’s side fell well short of pulling off a major upset away from home.
Luis Suarez’s opener followed by a second-half brace from Lionel Messi put the visitors to the sword and handed the Catalans with a near-unassailable lead heading into the second leg at Anfield.
A 3-0 scoreline never looks pretty on the paper but Liverpool did an awful lot more on the night to finish the game on a better note.
In fact, they finished the game with more possession and registered a total of 547 passes as compared to Barcelona’s total of 510, which is a remarkable achievement for any team playing the Spanish giants at Camp Nou. The Reds managed to get only 4 out of their 15 attempts on target, while Barcelona didn’t do much better with 5 out of 12 on target.
However, it was the presence of Lionel Messi that ultimately proved to be the difference between the two sides. The Argentinian was a nuisance to the Liverpool defence throughout the entire ninety minutes and sunk the visitors with his brace in the second half.
Having made it 2-0 from Suarez’s rebound at the 75th minute, the magician unleashed a jaw-dropping free-kick from about 30 yards to find the top corner of Alisson’s net, effectively sealing the tie for Barcelona in the process.
Liverpool have every reason to look back at the ninety minutes at Camp Nou and rue all those missed chances. Sadio Mane, James Milner and Mo Salah all squandered golden opportunities to get that crucial away goal, which would have given the Reds a better chance of making a comeback in the second leg at Anfield.
Nevertheless, they deserve all the credit for taking the game to Barcelona away from home and also for the fight, character and the resilience that they showed on the pitch even after going 3-0 down.
The Reds did not do much wrong defensively, barring a couple of occasions when Joe Gomez got caught out by Barcelona’s switch of play.
Van Dijk deserves a fair share of the criticism for Messi’s first goal and Barcelona’s second, as he didn’t react in time to clear the ball away from the rebound. Robertson had a decent game as well but one man who really stood out in that 3-0 defeat was none other than Joel Matip.
Coming into the game, many would have considered Matip to be the weakest link in Liverpool’s backline, but the Cameroonian international answered his critics with a really brave and solid display at the heart of the defence.
He has often come under scrutiny for his decision-making at the back but that was one aspect of his game that stood out at Camp Nou. The 27-year-old made some crucial tackles and interceptions to deny Barcelona an early goal, most notably when he came in with a timely intervention to stop Coutinho from getting a shot away from close range.
It would be unfair to blame Matip for Suarez’s opener given that the Uruguayan showed a tremendous piece of desire and awareness to get on the end of Jordi Alba’s cross from the left.
Apart from that, Matip stopped Liverpool’s demise on a number of occasions with some calm and composed defending, while also venturing aggressively further up the pitch to link up the play.
The Cameroonian played a total of 69 passes at an accuracy rate of 85.5, including an impressive 6 successful long passes and 1 key pass on a pressure-cooker night at Camp Nou.
Furthermore, he chipped in with 3 tackles, 4 clearances and 1 interception at the back, figures which show that he was not only Liverpool’s best defender on the pitch but he outperformed Virgil van Dijk as well.
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Up next for Liverpool is a trip to the north-east of England, as the Reds face off against an in-form Newcastle United in a must-win game in the Premier League on Saturday.