‘Klopp’s Army’ was the headline in Barcelona’s El Mundo Deportivo on Thursday as the dust settled on the quarter-finals.
It’s the second Red Army Lionel Messi and company must face to lift the Champions League and in Catalonia they are under no illusions that this battle will be far tougher than the one they faced in the last round.
If Manchester United threatened the team’s quest for the Champions League it was because of their relatively recent history of beating the odds at the Nou Camp – this time the respect is born, not of history, but of the here and now. It’s the current Liverpool team that impresses the whole of Spain.
Liverpool impressed the whole of Spain by booking a spot in Champions League semi-finals
Jurgen Klopp’s men will face Barcelona in the last four of the competition at the start of May
El Mundo Deportivo say how Liverpool haven’t been beaten by Barcelona in knockout stages
Barely a single United player would have got into Barcelona’s XI. That’s not the case with Liverpool.
Firmino has been talked about as a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez – probably not gettable but someone who fits the template.
Across the Clasico divide Real Madrid would love to sign Sadio Mane this summer. Again, they know it’s not possible but if Zinedine Zidane could pick a striker it might well be the Liverpool forward.
And when Julen Lopetegui and then Santiago Solari were relieved of their managerial duties at the Bernabeu there was one man who topped all the fan polls to be the new coach: not Zidane, not Jose Mourinho, not Mauricio Pochettino, but Jurgen Klopp.
Real Madrid have been eyeing up a summer move for Liverpool winger Sadio Mane
And the respect and admiration for him is felt in Barcelona too where many supporters would like to see him take the reins at the Nou Camp one day.
Even the history between the two teams makes Barcelona wary that his is very much the biggest hurdle to them winning the Champions League this season. Barcelona have never beaten Liverpool in a European knockout.
In the 1975-76 UEFA Cup, Barcelona lost 1-0 thanks to a John Toshack goal in the first leg. At Anfield, Charly Rexach scored but so did Phil Thompson and so Barcelona went out.
In the same competition in the 2000-01 season the two teams drew 0-0 at the Nou Camp and a Gary McAllister penalty put Liverpool through in the second leg.
And in the Champions League in the 2006-07 season Deco scored for Barcelona at the Nou Camp but so did Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise. At Anfield, Eider Gudjohnsen scored but it was not enough.
In 1975-76 UEFA Cup, Barcelona lost 1-0 thanks to a John Toshack (centre) goal in the first leg
Craig Bellamy (right) and Deco both scored in 2006-07 encounter between the two clubs
Barcelona did beat Liverpool in the group stage in the 2001-02 season but this will be all or nothing over 180 minutes and the omens favour Liverpool.
Ernesto Valverde’s team can draw some advantage from the fact that they already have the title wrapped up although Liverpool’s games around the two knockout legs are perhaps not the most testing against Cardiff, Huddersfield and Newcastle.
Barcelona could win the league as early as Tuesday night away to Alaves if Atletico Madrid slip up this weekend against Eibar. If not in midweek then they ought to finish the job the following weekend. It will be in the bag before the first leg.
And of course they have Messi, so for all the respect and admiration they still see themselves as favourites.
He only needs three more goals to clock up 600 in a Barcelona shirt. He has already scored 45 goals this season and he is on course for the Golden Shoe, the Golden Ball and three silver cups – the league, Spanish Cup and Champions League.
Lionel Messi scored a second-leg brace as Barca eased past Man United in the quarter-finals
Messi (left) only needs three more goals to clock up 600 in a Barcelona shirt
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SEMI-FINAL DATES
April 30 – Tottenham v Ajax
May 1 – Barcelona vs Liverpool
May 7 – Liverpool vs Barcelona
May 8 – Ajax vs Tottenham
It’s the third one he wants more than any other. That is the one he flagged up as the most important at the start of the season.
He will have to face Virgil van Dijk, who most Barcelona supporters believe is the second best defender in the world at the moment.
If he gets the better of him, and the man who is in their eyes the best, Gerard Pique, can keep Mane, Firminho and Mohamed Salah quiet then they will reach the Madrid final on June 1. But they know how difficult it is going to be.