After Liverpool UEFA Champions League aspiration was dented a big blow with a 3-0 defeat by Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona, the Reds turned their attention to the Premier League as they travel to St. James’ Park against Newcastle in a must win encounter to keep their title aspiration alive
Liverpool have no time to fret over their chastening Champions League defeat at the hands of Barcelona as they scramble to prevent their season from fizzling out without any silverware to show for it.
After the hammer blow of two late Lionel Messi goals at the Camp Nou, which gave Barcelona a 3-0 win in the first leg of the semi-final, Jurgen Klopp’s men must brace themselves for the challenge of Newcastle in the Premier League today.
Despite already posting a club record points tally of 91 with two games remaining, a Liverpool defeat would give Manchester City the chance to retain the title at home to Leicester on Monday.
“They don’t have to think about the next game against Barcelona, now we play Newcastle. That’s all our focus. We go to the hotel, have a proper sleep, get up in the morning, fly home and then prepare for Newcastle. Whatever happens, these boys, I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Klopp after Wednesday’s defeat in Spain.
There was plenty for Klopp to be proud about in Catalonia despite a first defeat in 20 games.
Liverpool had more possession and shots on goal as they pressed and penned the Spanish champions back, particularly after Luis Suarez had come back to haunt his former club with the opening goal in the 26th minute.
“I can work really well with this game. I will use this game to show the boys what is possible,” added Klopp.
“It was brave performance that was very passionate, very lively and in a lot of moments creative and direct.
“There will be a moment when I can convince the boys again how important this game was for us for our development because I really think it was the best away game we played in the Champions League. That’s a very important message for us, not for the world outside.”
However, while Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah missed huge chances, the magic of Messi swung the tie heavily in Barca’s favour.
If Messi’s first goal 15 minutes from time was opportunistic, his second was out of this world.
The Argentine’s 600th goal for Barcelona was fired into the top corner with unerring accuracy from a long-range free-kick.
“In these moments he’s unstoppable,” admitted Klopp.
A second leg at fortress Anfield is still to come, but ending a 29-year wait to win the Premier League was always Liverpool’s primary target for the season.
Now into his fourth season in charge, Klopp has still to win a trophy with Liverpool.
But if his maturing side were denied by individual brilliance in Barcelona, it is the collective class of City, led by former Barca boss Pep Guardiola, that looks likely to deny them a much-desired title.
For the seventh game in a row, Liverpool would go back on top with a victory over Newcastle, led by their former manager Rafael Benitez.
However, with City on a 12-game Premier League winning run, Liverpool still need the champions to slip up either at home to Leicester or away at Brighton on the final day of the season to stand a chance of winning the title.
“I think mentally, we shouldn’t be affected,” said Liverpool defender and Professional Footballers’ Association player of the year Virgil van Dijk.
“I won’t be. It was a tough game but we have a big game at the weekend and we are still in the race. We want the same performance without conceding the goals.”
Meanwhile, Reds forward, James Milner says Liverpool will be ready to go against Newcastle United after their Champions League disappointment.
Milner and his team-mates must now pick themselves up for tonight’s visit to St James’s Park.
Second-placed Liverpool, a point behind Premier League leaders Manchester City with two games left to play, need to win to be certain of taking the title race into the final weekend of the season.
“We’ve obviously got to bounce back first for the weekend, pick ourselves up again after this disappointment,” said former Newcastle midfielder Milner.
“But I think we’ve all seen the heart in the dressing room before and the drive, the team spirit. We’ll be ready to go at the weekend. Hopefully, we can get the result and get a bit of positive feeling going into the second leg.”
Liverpool had been unbeaten in 19 games going into the Barcelona game.
Reflecting on the defeat, 33-year-old Milner told beIN Sports: “I think, at this stage of the competition, the result is the only thing that matters really.
“Maybe we can take heart that we created chances in the game, and we should have probably taken a couple of those, but it didn’t happen, and they’re a top team who are always going to create chances and they took them.
“We can be proud of our play, but at this stage of the competition you need to get the result.”
However, Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez, has stated that he is not out to hand any favours to his old club when they meet.
“We will do what we have done the whole season and that’s try to win the game. We play at home in front of our own fans and will try to do our best. It’s my responsibility to look after Newcastle and if I was on the other side, I would be expecting the opposition to do their best and the manager to try his best,” Benitez said.