'They smother you' - Barca boss Valverde on Liverpool challenge

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde wants to cut off the supply line to Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde recognises the capacity for Liverpool to overwhelm its opponents with scintillating attacking bursts.   -  Getty Images

Ernesto Valverde has challenged his Barcelona players to meet the psychological challenges posed by Liverpool's playing style. 

Barcelona head into Wednesday's Champions League semifinal first leg at Camp Nou having claimed its fourth La Liga title in the past five seasons thanks to a 1-0 weekend win over Levante. 

Liverpool, in contrast, is locked in a brutal battle for the Premier League title with champion Manchester City, both sides having surpassed 90 points with two matches of the campaign remaining. 

Refined tactics under Jurgen Klopp, arguably less chaotic than the attack-minded approach that saw the Reds surge into last season's Champions League final against Real Madrid, have been credited with inspiring their relentless form this time around. 

But Valverde recognises that the capacity for Liverpool to overwhelm its opponents with scintillating attacking bursts - driven home by the potent front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino - remains a significant threat. 

RELATED | You're never favourite against Barcelona, says Klopp

"Liverpool are a team with lots of good forwards. They have only lost one game [in the Premier League] this season against City, that shows how good they are," the Barca head coach told a pre-match news conference.

"The idea is to win and to stop them from scoring an away goal. Liverpool are a team who latch on to mistakes, so it is important to stop those. 

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino trained on Tuesday after sitting out last Friday's 5-0 win over Huddersfield Town, meaning Klopp is likely to field the feted forward line Valverde so admires   -  AP

"They are a team who try to overrun a team in 15-minute periods, so we need to avoid that. 

"It's very psychological the way they play. We saw that against Chelsea the other week [a 2-0 Premier League win at Anfield]. In the first 15 minutes of each half they try to smother you, push you and throw everything they can at you."

Firmino trained on Tuesday after sitting out last Friday's 5-0 win over Huddersfield Town, meaning Klopp is likely to field the feted forward line Valverde so admires.  Indeed, he feels the battle may be won further back, with the onus on midfielders such as Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal to stop the Liverpool supply line.

"Those are three players who play at a really fast pace but what is just as important as them is how the ball gets to them," he said of Liverpool's forwards. 

"We need to win the midfield battle so Liverpool's midfielders cannot operate and get the ball through to those forwards who can cause so much danger." 

Barca is back in the Champions League semifinal for the first time since lifting the trophy in 2015, having fallen to Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Roma in three consecutive quarterfinals. 

"I'm someone who likes to play these things down," Valverde added.  "I've been in relegation battles needing to get three points to stay up. I'm sure other managers would like to swap their situations for mine now."

  Dugout videos