Liverpool lived with Barcelona and Lionel Messi for 75 minutes of this Champions League semi-final first leg – then discovered there is a force too powerful to resist.
Jurgen Klopp’s side may have trailed to Liverpool old boy Luis Suarez’s first-half goal, but in all other aspects they were in control and looking like taking a very presentable result back to Anfield next week.
Indeed, a Liverpool equaliser looked a more likely outcome than further Barcelona additions as they controlled possession in the arena where it is king and pushed their opponents back into their own territory.
The magic that Messi has been sprinkling on Barcelona and the entire sport for more than a decade transformed this tie in the space of those final 15 minutes. Liverpool, for all their good work, now face a mountainous task if they are to reach their second successive Champions League final.
Messi’s first and Barcelona’s second may have been a bundled mess after Suarez had hit the bar, but the goal that probably pushes this tie beyond Liverpool was perfection in every single respect.
It was a free-kick curled into the only place Alisson could not reach from distance, Messi’s 600th goal for Barcelona exactly 14 years to the day since he scored his first.
Few players could even contemplate what Messi did let alone accomplish it – and there you have the difference between the two teams.
After lengthy contemplation, some pointed a finger in Alisson’s direction but this is a ridiculous assertion. This was artistic sporting perfection and any suggestion the Brazilian was somehow at fault was ludicrous.
Liverpool did not have Messi and, more significantly, the world-class marksman they possess themselves had a rare off night as Klopp’s normally ruthless and clinical side found the finishing touch had deserted them.
Sadio Mane and Mo Salah have fuelled Liverpool’s magnificent toe-to-toe Premier League title battle with Manchester City, but they both missed wonderful chances to secure a priceless away goal.