Magic night for Liverpool is cruel blow for Valverde and Barca

Source: Xinhua| 2019-05-08 17:04:12|Editor: Xiang Bo
Video PlayerClose

by Paul Giblin

MADRID, May 8 (Xinhua) -- You will rarely see scenes in a football ground like those in Anfield on Tuesday night, but when you do, they should be cherished.

Scenes of almost uncontainable happiness, with players, fans and technical staff literally jumping for joy, hugging each other in a wild explosion of celebration at a quite remarkable victory which ended with the main actors lined up hand in hand to join in the emotive chorus of 'You'll never walk alone' - a song which more than anything captures the collective spirit of football.

Liverpool's 4-0 win over FC Barcelona in the return leg of their Champions League semi-final after losing 3-0 in the Camp Nou just a week earlier has to go down as one of the great comebacks in the history of the game.

It's on a par with Liverpool's fightback from 3-0 down at halftime against AC Milan in the 2005 final, another one of those nights where faith and unity and an unwillingness to accept defeat overcame reality.

It was one of the great nights unless of course you support Barcelona: in which case (as Spanish sports paper Diario AS says) it was a "Tragedy."

"I have to apologize to the fans," said midfielder Sergio Busquets after the final whistle, while striker Luis Suarez commented "we didn't have the right attitude," adding that "we can't make the same mistake for two consecutive years."

That is the big problem for Barca: what happened in Anfield also happened against Roma in last season's quarter-finals.

2018 saw Barca take a 4-1 first leg lead to the Olympic Stadium in Rome only to lose 3-0 on the night and crash out on away goals.

That defeat had led to Barca coach Ernesto Valverde being seriously questioned, despite going on to lead the club to the Liga Santander and Copa del Rey double. This season Barca have already assured the league title and are in the Copa del Rey final again, but Valverde is still the center of the criticism.

"I don't know how this defeat will affect me, but everyone has to accept their responsibility," he said shortly after the final whistle, before repeating, "I don't know (about the future), I haven't had time to think about many things, But here I am and the coach has to accept responsibility."

Valverde has another year left on his contract, but he won't have been reassured to hear Barca President, Josep Maria Bartomeu comment that the club's directors "will have to reflect deeply on what has happened here," when asked about the defeat on Spanish TV

Opinion over the former Athletic Club Bilbao coach in Barcelona has always been divided, despite his obvious successes. Many accuse Valverde of being over pragmatic and betraying the attacking football which has been the club's signal of identity since Johan Cruyff was in charge and which reached its zenith under Pep Guardiola.

Some fans (and directors) don't like the fact Valverde is willing to adapt a more defensive strategy if needed and a player such as Arturo Vidal (who was probably Barca's best player on Tuesday) seems to go against the Barca DNA.

Valverde supporters will point out that as well as Leo Messi, who only briefly gave flashes of his talent on Tuesday, Guardiola had Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta in his side, with those two adding the extra magic which made Barca's football so imperial.

Valverde may have Sergio Busquets (another part of Guardiola's team), but despite his obvious talent, Ivan Rakitic isn't Xavi and Arthur Melo and Carles Alena are still developing.

Meanwhile Philippe Coutinho, who was signed to replace Iniesta and Neymar, has been a huge disappointment and once again went 'missing in action' at Anfield.

Should Valverde have reacted earlier before making changes? It's possible, but at halftime his side may have been 1-0 down, but they looked relatively comfortable and had created enough chances to have scored an away goal that would have seen them though.

Nobody could have expected left back Jordi Alba to gift Liverpool their first two goals, nor the collective switching off which led to the decisive fourth goal, but just as football can be magical for some, on the same night it can be cruel to others.

Barca will now end their season with two meaningless (for them) Liga Santander games before taking on Valencia in the final of the Copa del Rey. If they lose that final Valverde will probably lose his job, and even if they win he could still be sacked.

There are not many coaches in the world who could lead their teams to consecutive domestic doubles and still be considered failures, but thanks to Rome and Liverpool that is likely to be Valverde's harsh fate.