No room for sentiment for ex-Liverpool favourite Suarez

Barcelona's Luis Suarez (No. 9) and Lionel Messi will lead the Spanish champions' attack when they host Liverpool at the Nou Camp today.
Barcelona's Luis Suarez (No. 9) and Lionel Messi will lead the Spanish champions' attack when they host Liverpool at the Nou Camp today.PHOTO: REUTERS

BARCELONA • It was a decade ago when former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson dubbed Barcelona the best team he had faced, but those still left from that iconic generation have work to do.

Only three players remain from the treble-winning squad of 2009 and when Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique line up against Liverpool today, they may wonder if this could be their best chance for another, and perhaps final, Champions League triumph.

Ferguson conceded after their 2-0 final loss that "nobody had given us a hiding" like Pep Guardiola's team, although the Scot also then expressed doubts about their European Cup hegemony as "great teams go in cycles".

While Barcelona are indisputably Spain's best, wrapping up their eighth league title in 11 years over the weekend, Ernesto Valverde's men know their domestic dominance has been tainted by underachievement in Europe.

Regardless of whether they win another double this term - Valencia are their King's Cup final opponents - their season will be defined by whether the club lift its sixth Champions League on June 1.

Standing in their way of a first final appearance since 2015 are Liverpool who, with just 20 Premier League goals conceded, have the most miserly backline of any team in Europe's top five leagues.

But Barcelona's rearguard are no slouches as well. They have let in the fewest goals (six) of any side in the Champions League this season.

FINAL IN SIGHT

In the Champions League you cannot allow yourself not even a second of distraction. The objective is the next game. Nothing can distract us from trying to be in the final. We have to have the best game of our season.

LUIS SUAREZ, Barcelona striker, revealing his team's single-minded focus to reach the final.

And with Luis Suarez running the channels, Messi with his licence to roam and Philippe Coutinho cutting in from the left, the Catalans have the firepower to breach Liverpool's backline, marshalled by Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year Virgil van Dijk.

There will also be no room for sentiment for Suarez, who face his former club in today's first leg at the Nou Camp for the first time since he left Liverpool in 2014.

The Uruguay striker, who was idolised on Merseyside during a prolific four-year stint, has every intention of shooting down the Reds as the Champions League is "a thorn in the side" the Spanish champions are desperate to remove.

While he admitted facing Liverpool "was special" for him, as the fans "treated me with a lot of love", and he still "speaks regularly with (Jordan) Henderson", he reiterated he now "belonged to Barcelona".

The 32-year-old told Spanish daily Sport: "After some years when we didn't get there, the Champions League semi-final has raised great expectations, the objective in this final part of the season is clear.

"In the Champions League you cannot allow yourself not even a second of distraction. The objective is the next game. Nothing can distract us from trying to be in the final. We have to have the best game of our season.

"After three years being knocked out... We had to return and we are on a good track. Facing my old team will be one more motivation."

Barcelona's record - they are unbeaten at home in 31 Champions League games - may give them the edge ahead of the return fixture at Anfield on May 7.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2019, with the headline 'No room for sentiment for ex-Liverpool favourite Suarez'. Print Edition | Subscribe