Halftime Sports

Champions League Reactions: Semifinal Second Leg

May 10, 2019

Wow, what a week.

Liverpool FC 4-0 FC Barcelona (4-3 agg.)

You know what at this point I’m just going to do player ratings because I don’t think I can string together proper paragraphs about this game. Because so many individuals deserved special praise or scorn, this is the easiest way to keep track. If you want my in-game thoughts, follow me on Twitter (@Jorge_DeNeve) because I had quite a few there.

Liverpool. I honestly think Liverpool struggled so much this year in the Champions League because they struggled to cope with the pressure, and it’s why they’ve struggled so much away from Anfield. Being 3-0 down, they finally had the weight of expectation off their shoulders and played free, like they had nothing to lose, and it was the Liverpool from last year’s Champions League that could blow any team away.

Alisson 8. Honestly there wasn’t a lot to do for Alisson, but when he was called upon, he delivered and commanded his box in the late stages of the match when Barça was throwing everything forward to see if something stuck. However, every save was one you’d expect him to make, so he goes no higher than the eight.

Robertson 7. He was incredibly lively in the first half, and was unlucky to fall victim to Luis Suárez’s veteran gamesmanship. If Liverpool had fallen at the final hurdle, Robertson would’ve been the biggest what if of the match, but thankfully for him, he still gets the final.

Van Dijk 8. He was commanding in the air, sure in the tackle, and dangerous on set pieces. Could have been rated higher but got caught too high for Barcelona’s best chance of the match.

Matip 7. A solid performance for Matip who at one point was probably in Klopp’s plans to be sold, but the balls Barcelona played over the top were over his head. Because he struggled to track those runners, he gets rated lower than his center back partner.

Alexander-Arnold 10. Two typical Alexander-Arnold assists, as well as the tenacity and pressing we’ve come to expect from him, and his quick corner kick was pure genius. Took full advantage of what was given to him and willed his team to a win. My pick for man of the match.

Milner 7. Completely reliable as usual, yet doing nothing flashy. His deliveries from set pieces weren’t all that great, but he was a steady presence in the midfield and slotted in capably at left back with Robertson hurt.

Fabinho 7. Maybe a little harsh, but to me he was just short of an eight. Was almost completely sucked in by Suárez’s games and picked up a very early yellow card. He was a liability in the first half as far as possibly getting sent off, but settled down in the second to play his normal role and never came close to that sending off.

Henderson 9. He ran, and ran, and ran, and ran, and ran…, well you get the picture. Somehow Henderson had boundless energy, and he did a large part in disrupting any rhythm Barcelona had all on his own.

Origi 9. It must have been 2014 because Divock Origi actually played well. And not just popped up and scored, but did a decent job in possession and looked dangerous dribbling at defenders as well. The first goal was right place, right time, but the winner was an incredible finish after some quick thinking. He likely will only be a substitute in the final, but after this performance, I’m sure he’ll come off the bench.

Mané 7. He’s not particularly comfortable playing centrally, and it’s glaringly obvious at times. Regardless, he ran hard and pressed Barcelona’s back line into mistakes, though his decision making in the final third was against a little suspect.

Shaqiri 6. He’s the one Liverpool player on the night that was simply average and simply sat on the periphery. He didn’t make any mistakes, but that’s more for the fact that he didn’t even try anything. While Origi grabbed his chance with both hands, Shaqiri let is slip away.

Wijnaldum 8. I’m a little surprised he didn’t start, but when he came on in the second half it injected new life in Liverpool when Barcelona had just started to take control at the end of the half. Two superb finishes, but I also can’t remember him doing anything of note otherwise.

Gomez N/A. Did nothing really, just brought on the add an extra defender and run clock.

Sturridge N/A. Did even less than Gomez, and I doubt he even touched the ball.

Klopp 10. With all the injuries, Klopp could’ve been forgiven for giving this game up and putting all his eggs in on the Wolves game at the weekend, but he managed to turn around a three-goal deficit with a battered team. You can’t get anything other than a 10.

Anfield 10. This crowd was behind their team the whole way, and you can tell they really started to believe they’d win when Wijnaldum made it 3-2 on aggregate. The Kop End got a well-deserved salute from the team post game with a rousing chorus of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Barcelona. Clearly, their heads were still in Rome last year, or maybe with the 2-0 loss to Celta Vigo at the weekend (with a rotated squad but still). This was an inexcusable performance from a veteran squad, but we’ll find out where the blame lies in the ratings. The bottom line is that Barcelona played scared with a three-goal lead for the second year in a row.

Ter Stegen 5. He was fine with his feet and didn’t make any glaring mistakes, but it was clear that Liverpool crowding him on corners unsettled him. His somewhat shaky save from Robertson’s shot in the first half did nothing to quell the nerves the rest of the team felt, and as the goalkeeper, a large part of the blame for the final goal falls on him. However, he was one of few Barcelona players that could connect a pass, so that counts for something.

Alba 0. Terrible. I’m not sure he completed a pass. Actually that’s wrong, he definitely completely at least one, and that was when he was clean through on goal and decided to pass backwards. He was completely at fault for the first two goals and never did anything to help Barcelona relieve pressure. The smaller pitch probably affected him, but he doesn’t get that excuse as far as I’m concerned. The worst I’ve ever seen him play.

Lenglet 2. He was just about as nervy as Alba, but made some okay challenges at times and didn’t misplace every pass. The way he’s been playing though was well below his standard.

Piqué 6. He was the only player in the Barça backline that looked like he wanted the ball and wanted to play. But he couldn’t do it all by himself, and as the game went on and Barcelona needed to score, he got sloppier. He lost track of Wijnaldum for the third goal, and on the fourth goal, while he was the only one that noticed, he should have stepped to Origi to try make the shot more difficult.

Roberto 3. About as hopeless defensively as Alba and Lenglet, and was equally useless in midfield. He couldn’t keep up with any Liverpool players, and only earned a three because he occasionally had some good link up play with Lionel Messi down the right side.

Rakitić 3. I didn’t notice him at all, and while normally this would warrant a five or six, he’s Barça’s most mobile midfielder. He was best equipped to combat Henderson in midfielder, and eventually Wijnaldum, and he was just overrun. Hence, the three.

Busquets 6. He wasn’t at his best, but he was clever on the ball, and where his teammates couldn’t keep it, he played like he normally does. Whenever Barcelona got out of their half in a controlled fashion, Busquets was at the heart of the move. One clever turn had Milner swiping at air, but unfortunately his teammates couldn’t do anything with what he created.

Vidal 4. He ran as much as his old legs could, but when he finally got the ball he couldn’t keep it. At least he didn’t look scared of the occasion like some others I’ve mentioned.

Coutinho 2. To think Barcelona spent €142 million last January to get a player that is cautious in possession, defensively runs around like a headless chicken, and when shooting can hardly get a pea roller on target with his strong foot. He was Barcelona’s worst player in the first leg, so why he started is beyond me. Even more shocking was that he survived halftime.

Suárez 5. He did all the little Suárez things that you expect him to do, and was doing pretty well with the mind games with the center backs and had already riled up Fabinho in the opening ten minutes. But when the chance fell to him in the second half, the type that you’d expect him to put away, he scuffed it and made it easy for Alisson. He might be done at the top level sooner than we think.

Messi 7. You can’t fault him for trying, but with the rest of the Barcelona side firing blanks, Messi constantly had three red shirts near him whenever he was on the ball. He was firing shots from distance instead of combining to get into the box, and the longer the game went on, the deeper he dropped to try to have an impact. Even when he wriggled free, he set his teammates up perfectly only for them to miss.

Semedo 5. Certainly helped Barcelona a little bit defensively like he did in the first leg. The probably is that it was already 3-3 on aggregate when he came onto the field, so he was a bit too late to make the proper effect.

Arthur 7. I don’t know why it took until the 75th minute for Arthur to come on. Immediately, Barcelona were brighter on the ball with another midfielder who could put their foot down and calmly play a pass. It was something the team desperately needed the whole match, but when Arthur finally came in the game was so frantic that his impact was too little, too late.

Malcom 3. What was supposed to be Barça’s coup of the summer just ended up being a flop. He did nothing of note all season, and today instead of taking players on, he did a couple of step overs and went backwards.

Dembélé 1. He didn’t travel to Merseyside, but his missed chance in the first leg loomed large. I couldn’t give him a pass.

Valverde 1. This is now the second year in a row that Barcelona has squandered a three-goal advantage from the first leg. In both cases, Ernesto Valverde chose an overly conservative lineup that simply couldn’t cope with either match. Especially in this match, substitutions came too late, lineup choices were poor, and the team very clearly came out of the tunnel void of confidence, and it showed in Liverpool’s early goal. As good as he’s been domestically, crashing out of the Champions League like this a second time isn’t good enough for a club of Barcelona’s stature. I think it’s time for Barça to move on from Ernesto Valverde.

Prediction: Barça to advance. Incorrect.

AFC Ajax 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur FC (3-3 agg. Tottenham advances on away goals.)

Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong were smirking during the Champions League anthem. Ajax were doing back heels inside 10 minutes. That’s how relaxed they were from the start, and while it nearly got them in trouble a couple times (mainly André Onana), this is exactly what Ajax have done this entire tournament. They haven’t been shutout since the final qualifying round back in August. Even the last minute change to the lineup, with Kasper Dolberg playing instead of David Neres, did nothing to slow them down. De Ligt towered for a header and Hakim Ziyech put a screamer into the top corner, and they went into halftime up 2-0. They were cruising into the final, but they took their foot off the gas. Somehow, despite seeing the same thing happen in the first leg, they let Spurs back into it. For the first goal, De Ligt got caught too high up the pitch. For the second, Onana made a brilliant save to deny Llorente, then dropped the ball when pouncing on the rebound, and all of a sudden Spurs score. Ajax has a few glorious chances to put the tie to bed, but Ziyech, Daley Sinkgraven, and Dušan Tadić refuse to touch the ball with their right foot, let alone shoot. Hugo Lloris still made the saves when it mattered, but Ajax should have been long gone by the end of it. Then for the final goal, Dele Alli took advantage of Lisandro Magallán slipping, and Spurs win it. But in the end, Spurs deserved it. Fernando Llorente allowed them to put pressure on the Ajax back line, since De Ligt is the only defender they have the can win a header, so Llorente posted up on Daley Blind. Lucas Moura had three great finishes, and now Spurs are in the final.

Prediction: Ajax to advance. Incorrect.

Final Preview

Liverpool FC v. Tottenham Hotspur FC

There hasn’t been an all-English final in the Champions League since 2008, but here we are. Both matches in the Premier League ended 2-1 Liverpool. Both sides will have had three weeks rest from the end of the Premier League season, so it’s almost impossible to not play the strongest available side. Liverpool and Tottenham got here the hard way. Both finished second in their group, and both faced down 3-0 deficits in the semifinal. The issue is that for most of the players Tottenham has, I see a better player in Liverpool’s team: Alisson over Lloris, Van Dijk over Vertonghen, Firmino over Kane, Salah over Son. Spurs may arguably have the better midfield, but I’m not entirely sure that’s the case, nor am I entirely sure that matters with the way Liverpool like to play, and because of that, Liverpool are the favorites. If Liverpool can cope with the pressure, and I say if because in the Premier League run in and at certain points in this Champions League run they haven’t handled the pressure very well, they will win. However, if they don’t, Tottenham has enough dangerous players, especially on the counter, to do damage.

Prediction: Liverpool wins 3-1.

Jorge DeNeve
Los Angeles native. Still wondering where the Galaxy went wrong and decided buying Jermaine Jones was a good idea.

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