Liverpool coach Juergen Klopp said he feared the worst when Philippe Coutinho left for Barcelona but congratulated his side for thriving in the Brazilian’s absence as they prepare for a reunion in the Champions League semi-finals. Barca signed Coutinho for a club record 142 million pounds ($185.18 million) in January 2018.
Yet while the playmaker has struggled to adapt to his new surroundings, Liverpool have soared, taking the Premier League title race with Manchester City to the wire and fighting to reach a second consecutive European Cup final. Liverpool put the considerable windfall they received from selling Coutinho towards signing defensive linchpin Virgil van Dijk, goalkeeper Alisson Becker as well as midfielders Naby Keita and Fabinho, creating a more complete squad.
“We miss Phil Coutinho a lot because he is a world class player and I loved working together with him but we had to deal without him and we did well,” Klopp told a news conference ahead of Wednesday’s first leg at the Nou Camp. “When I first heard he wanted to go to Barcelona I couldn’t imagine it would be good, but we did good.”
Klopp also highlighted the progress his side have made since he took over from Brendan Rodgers in October 2015 and they had to endure two seasons without Champions League football. He also laughed off a suggestion he could see the semi-final as a distraction from the club’s bid to win a first league title since 1990.
“Not even two years ago it was a big, big thing for the club to qualify for the Champions League. Now for the second time in a row we are in semi-finals. That is a positive,” said the German. “We don’t come here thinking it’s Barcelona and we go home and concentrate on Newcastle. 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.” Klopp said his side would dedicate part of their game plan on shackling Lionel Messi, but also stressed the quality Barca have elsewhere on the pitch. “It’s not only about Messi but of course it’s about him as well. We should in a lot of moments focus on Messi but if we only concentrate on him there are 10 world class players who can decide the game,” he added.
“Messi said before the season we want to bring back that cup. All I can say is we want to go the final as well. If we can show that tomorrow night, that would be good.”
Valverde expects fans to play big role against Liverpool despite Klopp jibe
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde trusts the Nou Camp faithful to give his side the support they need in their Champions League semi-final first leg against Liverpool, playing down Juergen Klopp’s claim that the stadium will not intimidate his team. The Nou Camp is the biggest stadium in Europe with a capacity of 99,000 yet it does not have the same reputation for noise or unconditional support as Liverpool’s Anfield home.
Liverpool coach Klopp said in an interview with broadcaster DAZN that his team should not be overwhelmed by playing at Barca’s ground, saying: “The Camp Nou is just a stadium. It is pretty big, but it is no temple of football.” However, Valverde backed the Barcelona supporters to turn up the volume in the game to help his side move towards a first Champions League final in four years.
“The fans at the Nou Camp have already played a decisive role this season. We’ve had over 90,000 fans at our last few games and we have felt the difference they made,” Valverde told a news conference ahead of Wednesday’s match. “We expect the same tomorrow, and we know our fans will give us that extra push, just like Liverpool will get at Anfield. I think Klopp said that to cool the hype about the game, because it’s just another game.”
Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic added: “We respect Klopp’s opinion but playing in the Nou Camp is different, it’s special. We don’t care if it’s seen as a temple or not. I’d love to be able to play at the Nou Camp every week.”
Rakitic said his side were excited about playing in their first Champions League semi-final since winning the competition in 2015, adding that the players had an extra spring in their step after lifting the Liga title on Saturday.
“We are very happy to be in the semi-finals and after winning the league we’re also feeling really confident, we can’t wait for the game to arrive,” added the Croatia international.
“There are still many things we need to improve on but most of all we are excited. We have to learn from the mistakes we made in the last few years but we’re really up for it and we know the best is yet to come.” While Barca may be on cloud nine after sealing an eighth title in 11 years, Valverde warned his side about the dangers of a relentless Liverpool side who are a point off the top in the Premier League after earning a staggering 91 so far this term.
“I cannot say which team is in better form, we are the champions of our league but their season speaks for itself,” Valverde added, with Liverpool pursuing Manchester City in the domestic title race with two games left.
“They have a great pressing style, they play at a very fast pace and they have a magnificent attack. They are a very difficult team to beat and the fact they have only lost once (in the Premier League) says a lot about them.”