Setting the scene
Barcelona and Liverpool both went into their 2019 Champions League semi-final in superb form.
Barca, hosts for the first leg, were unbeaten in 22 matches and on a streak of eight straight home wins while Jurgen Klopp’s Reds were undefeated in their previous 19 in all competitions.
Path to the final
The Catalan giants had topped Group B, dropping their only home points in a 1-1 draw with eventual finalists Tottenham after qualification had already been wrapped up.
In the knockout phase, they’d cruised past Lyon 5-1 on aggregate in the last 16 and brushed aside Manchester United 4-0 over two legs in the quarter-finals.
Liverpool, after their thrilling run to the final in 2018, looked to be suffering a Champions League hangover as they lost all three away group matches to PSG, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade.
But a trio of home wins – including a nervy 1-0 success over Napoli in the final group game, a match remembered for Alisson’s dramatic injury-time stop to keep them alive – saw the Merseysiders scrape through.
Remember THIS save?
? UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) November 27, 2019
A 0-0 home draw with Bayern Munich in the last 16 again put Klopp’s men on the back foot but the former Borussia Dortmund boss masterminded a superb 3-1 win in the return in Germany, Sadio Mane scoring a brilliant opener and sealing the Reds’ progress with a flying header.
A favourable draw pitted them with Porto in the last eight and, despite some early pressure in the return leg following a 2-0 victory at Anfield, Liverpool ran out 4-1 winners on the night to cruise through 6-1 and set up the showdown with Barca.
May 1st, 2019: Barcelona v Liverpool – first leg
With home advantage, Barcelona traded at [1.95] to establish a first-leg lead. Liverpool were [4.4] while The Draw was [3.8].
What our previewer said:
Michael Cox: “Barcelona start as favourites for this Champions League semi-final, but Liverpool are capable of matching them across the park, and tactically they have every chance of standing up to Ernesto Valverde’s side, and taking them on in a good, open game of football.
“Tactics, though, can sometimes be rendered less important – because, of course, Barca have Leo Messi in their ranks, and if the Argentine brings his best form here, he makes every kind of tactical plan almost irrelevant.”
A prescient Cox added: “He remains a master of through-balls, has scored 10 goals in the Champions League this season, and has improved his free-kick taking to become the most dangerous set-piece taker in Europe. Sometimes, he’s simply unstoppable.”
But Cox concluded: “I fancy Liverpool over the two legs here, and even a 2-1 defeat at the Camp Nou might be considered a decent result, giving the Reds the opportunity to progress with a 1-0 victory at Anfield. I’ll bet on the tie rather than the first leg, and back Liverpool to progress at 2.22.”
Result: Barcelona 3-0 Liverpool
The nightmare scenario for Liverpool unfolded. Not only did former striker Luis Suarez find the net to put Barca in front, the visitors were subject to some Messi brilliance which looked to have put the tie beyond them.
Suarez poached an opener after 26 minutes and, after Liverpool had more than held their own, Messi doubled the lead with 15 minutes left after tapping home a Suarez shot which had struck the woodwork.
And then, seven minutes later, came the moment which surely buried Liverpool’s hopes. The hosts won a free-kick 30 yards out and Messi curled a brilliant shot past the outstretched hand of Alisson for his 600th Barcelona goal.
When Mo Salah struck the post from close-range after Roberto Firmino’s shot was cleared off the line, their fate seemed sealed although it could have been even worse.
In the desperation to grab an away goal, Liverpool were left stranded upfield from a corner and Messi set up Ousmane Dembele to add an easy fourth. But, having only just come on as a sub, the Frenchman fluffed his shot. How crucial that would prove.
Nevertheless, Liverpool trudged of the pitch wondering how on earth they’d lost the match 3-0. After falling to Real Madrid in the previous year’s final, it looked for all the world that it was the turn of the other Spanish giants to end their hopes this time.
May 7th, 2019: Liverpool v Barcelona – second leg
With Barcelona in such a dominant position, Messi and co were just [1.06] to progress to the final.
Liverpool were favourites at [2.26] to win on the night but surely they couldn’t pull off the impossible.
What our previewers said:
Betfair Brand Ambassador and Barcelona legend Rivaldo: “Barca must be careful about Liverpool and go to England with the aim of scoring a goal, meaning the Reds will have to score at least five times.”
Jack Lang: “It’s not easy to be positive after the result of the first leg, which leaves them needing a miracle or two. Jürgen Klopp’s side are well capable of scoring three times against any team, but it’s also a big ask to keep Barça quiet for 90 minutes, and if the away side score, their task starts to look positively Sisyphean.
“If Liverpool fans are looking for reasons to be hopeful, they should look at their side’s recent home record: the Reds are unbeaten in 19 matches at Anfield in all competitions (W16 D3 L0), scoring 52 times across that run. The atmosphere will be fervent, and you can be sure Klopp will be willing his charges to channel some of the crazed energy that got them to last year’s final.
“Are they capable of winning this game without two of their usual front three (Firmino and Salah were ruled out)? Probably, and odds of [2.26] might hold some appeal when you consider that Barcelona are far less of a force away from home than at Camp Nou. But there’s a reason that the Blaugrana are [1.06] shots to qualify: Liverpool need something very, very special if they are to turn this around.”
Result: Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona
Something very, very special then eh! Anfield has witnessed some incredible European nights but this topped the lot.
By kick-off, Barcelona had been backed at just [1.04] to qualify while Liverpool had traded at [25.00] to make the final in Madrid.
An early goal was a must for the Reds and, with the familiar Anfield roar behind them, they got it. A sweeping move ended with a Jordan Henderson shot being parried out to Divock Origi who fired home after seven minutes.
All good but there was still a mountain to climb and there were scares at the other end as Liverpool went into the interval just 1-0 in front.
The mix of tension and excitement then gave way to absolute frenzy early in the second half as Gini Wijnaldum netted twice in the space of 122 seconds – the second with a thumping header – to put the tie level at 3-3.
Liverpool were now an unstoppable force and, with the stadium rocking, a rattled Barcelona fatally switched off after conceding a 79th-minute corner.
With the local ball-boys instructed to get play re-started quickly, the quick-thinking Trent Alexander-Arnold spotted that sleepy Barcelona hadn’t yet set up defensively, whipped in a low cross and Origi side-footed it first time in off a post and into the back of the net.
Bedlam! One of the Champions League’s classic moments and Liverpool had pulled off a miracle.
Trent Alexander-Arnold spots Barcelona napping and Divock Origi makes no mistake!!!
? Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 7, 2019
Incredible Reds slashed to odds-on
The 4-0 scoreline had been backed at a whopping [120.0] on the Betfair Exchange while Liverpool went from being [36.0] to win the competition to [1.48] favourites as they awaited the winner of Spurs and Ajax in the other semi.
Barcelona, who had been as short as [1.45] to be crowned champions, had buckled horribly, Messi’s haunted expression as he left the pitch summing up the visitors’ pain.