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One English Team Appears Well-Placed To Test Decelerating Barcelona

One English Team Appears Well-Placed To Test Decelerating Barcelona

Safely through to the quarter-finals of this year's Champions League before a ball has been kicked in their second-leg tie against Porto, Liverpool fans will already be considering their favoured opponents for the next round.

With certain members of their fan-base (enamoured perhaps by memories of 2005) indulging the idea of a run all the way to Kiev, even the most ardent follower of Jurgen Klopp's side would accept that particular weaknesses in their team leave them vulnerable to the strengths in others.

Objectively, one would struggle to imagine Liverpool overcoming a number of the seasoned sides at this level; Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Juventus would fancy themselves to suitably hold Liverpool's obvious attacking threats, while doing some damage themselves against a suspect defence.

Contrarily, ties against the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United or Tottenham Hotspur would offer something altogether more difficult to determine. During Klopp's tenure, Liverpool have shown they are capable of sublime performances against such domestic heavyweights.

Yet, heavy defeats against City and Spurs this season have demonstrated their susceptibility to implode when probed correctly. And, when the varied backdrop of a European night is factored in, things can occasionally favour the pragmatist - a large reason why Rafa Benitez's 2005 edition worked as it did and a role Antonio Conte or Jose Mourinho tend to flourish within.

Ultimately, the attacking threat they pose - as was so ruthlessly demonstrated against Porto - works tremendously well in European competition. When they traveled to the final of the Europa League in 2016, potentially troublesome ties against Manchester United or Dortmund became an example of what Klopp's side could do if allowed a little breathing room.

Although the Champions League is a different beast, so too are Klopp's current crop of players. While few of the last-16 ties are as yet decided in the manner Liverpool's is, one potential opponent stands out as Liverpool's absolute ideal; albeit, perhaps more from the perspective of the neutral.

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Looking every part the dominant side on the ball, Barcelona nonetheless looked a touch apprehensive in their first-leg tie against Chelsea tonight.

Having scarcely tested Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois in spite of their superior possession of the ball, Antonio Conte will have every reason to believe that he did all he possibly could to present an avenue down which his team could have beaten Barcelona tonight.

One mistaken pass between defenders allowed Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi to manufacture a move that ultimately lead to a curiously undeserved equaliser. Until that point, Willian's goal, one of three such goals that he almost scored on the night, had appeared enough for a priceless win.

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Although all the functional parts (Messi, Iniesta, Suarez) are still there for Barcelona, 1-1 signaled a successful salvage mission; the usual omnipotence was absent.

More fleeting than it used to be, this side are of course still capable of conjuring the kind of sublimity that even Klopp's Liverpool could not meet; a 3-0 defeat of Juventus in the first round of group stage matches a demonstration of this.

Yet, beginning as Chelsea did with no obvious striker, the tactical message was clear; sit deeper, feed Hazard, Pedro or Willian the ball, and let them run at an increasingly slower Barcelona defence.

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If such a setup could appeal to any particular opponent to Barcelona's detriment, that opponent would almost certainly be Liverpool.

While one would hardly be so naive to suggest that Messi or Suarez would find much to fear in a Liverpool back-line that could, injuries depending, contain Ragnar Klavan or Dejan Lovren, this is something that Klopp is incapable of rectifying in the immediate future either way.

Furthermore, it is something that will only excite viewers further.

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Although Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah pose a different threat to Chelsea's attacking trio tonight, it is a threat that could arguably offer Barcelona even greater problems. Aware that Barcelona will almost certainly score, Liverpool will have to put even more emphasis on their attacking ability.

In Chelsea, Barcelona faced a side that possessed the kind of attacking talent that needs very little to make a lot. With that in mind, Conte's emphasis could be more readily directed toward establishing a defensively minded side that could garner some reprieve with the odd flash of brilliance - as was demonstrated with Willian's three stand out efforts in a match of relatively few clear chances.

For Liverpool, despite the number of goals they have scored in this year's Champions League alone, chances created tend to far outweigh the number of chances converted. As such, profligacy in attack is a fear that would surely temper Klopp's decision to operate in a similar vein to Conte; not that he possesses the necessary defenders anyway.

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Ultimately, although Barcelona's attacking talents and quality throughout the entirety of their side would likely raise them above the best Liverpool can throw at them, the prospect of seeing this Liverpool side attempting to exploit the slower quarters of the pitch that Barcelona can no longer manage as efficiently as they once did would be terrifically exciting.

See Also: Jose Mourinho Questions Bravery Of 'England's Generation Of Experts'

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