Jurgen Klopp has warned his players they cannot concentrate only on Lionel Messi when Liverpool face Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday.
Messi has been rested for Barca’s last two league games and appears more motivated than ever in Europe, after pledging to “bring that beautiful cup back to Camp Nou” at the start of the season.
“It’s not only about Messi but of course it’s about him as well,” Klopp said at a press conference on Tuesday. “Can we concentrate on Messi? We should in a lot of moments but if we only concentrate on him there are 10 other world-class players who can decide the game as well. Messi said before the season, ‘we want to bring back that cup’. That sounds like a threat to me. Now we did it, now we are here and all I can say is we want to go to the final as well.”
Liverpool hope to have their own striker back in time for the first leg, after Roberto Firmino trained after recovering from a muscle strain.
“If he is 100 per cent ready to play he will maybe play,” Klopp said. “He is here. Tomorrow we have another session.”
Messi is likely to be flanked by two former Liverpool players, with Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho expected to start in an attacking three.
But while Suarez has flourished in Spain, Coutinho has struggled to find his feet since joining Barca for 120 million euros in January last year.
“We miss Phil Coutinho a lot because he is a world-class player and I loved working with him,” Klopp said. “When I first heard he wanted to go to Barcelona I couldn’t imagine it would be good. But we had to deal without him and we did well.”
Barcelona have not lost at home in the Champions League since 2013 while the last English opponent to beat them on their own turf was Liverpool in 2007.
‘Mean a lot to win’
Ernesto Valverde has been able to rest players in recent weeks, with Barca well clear at the top of La Liga before confirming their 26th league title on Saturday. A draw would not be the worst result in the world, not that we would go for it but it would be okay,” Klopp said.
“It would mean a lot to win. It’s difficult, so many teams came here with an idea to do this or that and they got a big knock but we saw the game against Real Sociedad and they did well. Levante did well a couple of days ago. But the better the opposition is, the higher the stakes are, and the more they are engaged. Now they are champions, they can completely focus on the Champions League.”
Klopp caused a stir in Spain by downplaying the impact Camp Nou might have on his players. He suggested his comments were misinterpreted.
“I give 500,000 interviews and say 500,000 positive things about Barcelona,” Klopp said. “It’s still a stadium where we want to play good football and play the best we can play. That’s allowed, that’s what we try to do.”
Unlike Barcelona, Liverpool are still fighting hard in the Premier League title race, where only one point separates them from Manchester City, with three games left to play.
Between the two legs against Barca, Klopp’s side travel to Newcastle on Saturday.
“We don’t come here thinking it’s Barcelona and we want to go home and concentrate on Newcastle,” Klopp said. “The competition is too big. Nobody has to think about that game, it would be a massive mistake to play Barca with another game on your mind. We want a result tomorrow that gives us a good chance to do it at home.”