If everyone has 15 minutes of fame, Liverpool have 15 minutes of fury that can end everything, leaving opponents defeated. That was the verdict of the Barcelona manager, Ernesto Valverde, who has warned his players that they have to be ready to ride out the sudden storm when it comes or risk a heavy defeat.
Valverde said: “They’re very strong, extraordinary up front, they press and play with a very high rhythm and pace. It’s very similar to the way that [Jürgen] Klopp played at Dortmund and he brought that to Liverpool.” He then introduced two words that defy easy translation to define the threat Barça faces in Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final at the Camp Nou and at Anfield next week: arrebato – a charge, an outburst, a surge, even a rapture – and arrollar, which is to flatten, steamroller or run over.
“You can’t make any mistakes, you can’t switch off: they’re a team that have an arrebato and in 15 minutes they try to arrollar you,” he said, pausing to add: “And they often succeed.”
Asked whether his team would be ready physically for those bursts, Valverde replied: “It’s not so much physical as psychological. You have to be concentrated, ready for when it happens. Against Chelsea [a 2-0 win for Liverpool], it was the first 15 minutes of the second half. You have to have an answer for that, a response to their capacity to push you back towards your goal. You have to be able to overcome that pressure they put on you.
“They’re recognisable as the same team as last year, with the same idea. Not many players have changed: you look at the goalkeeper, or [Naby] Keïta for example, but the rest are recognisable. They also have the experience of having played in a game with the importance of last year’s final.
“It’s not just the front three, they have a collective model that feeds them; they press high, push the defence up, try to rob the ball off you in your half and give it to them, giving them the space to do you damage. They are a very good team. They’re a fearful opponent in many ways and we will have to play very well.”
Valverde also dismissed suggestions that his team have an advantage over Liverpool having tied up the league with a 1-0 win over Levante on Saturday, noting that it is “only one game [in which Barcelona do not have to compete in the league and Liverpool do] between the first leg and the second”. But he did admit that the desire to do so had prevented him from resting Luis Suárez more. Whereas Lionel Messi has played 64% of the minutes in April, the Uruguayan sat out only at Huesca.
“I would have liked maybe to have not had him finish the game against Levante but I prioritised the result,” Valverde said. “Given the choice between Luis resting and the league, I chose the league. He seems to be [motivated], but he’s motivated against every team. Luis Suárez is like that.”