We’re taking a different approach for the 2019 UEFA Champions League Semifinals combined starting XI this go around.
Today, we examine the Barcelona vs Liverpool combined XI. Tottenham & Ajax will be published this weekend.
Surprisingly, the choices for Liverpool and Barcelona mostly lined up. We’ll get to it shortly, but only the backline and last frontline spot had any meaningful back-and-forth.
Barcelona – Liverpool Champions League Odds and Probabilities
Oddsmakers and analytics don’t line up on this match-up.
Barcelona is seen as the semifinal and overall UCL favorite on sportsbooks such as FanDuel Sportsbook NJ. Leg 1 is listed first. Home team is listed first.
|Barcelona -130||Draw +290||Liverpool +340|
|Liverpool +145||Draw +250||Barcelona +180|
While Barcelona and Liverpool are the two favorites to win the UCL,
FanDuel Sportsbook NJ has the Catalans at +135 and the Reds at +230.
Over on FiveThirtyEight, the match-up is essentially a coin-flip.
Barcelona – Liverpool Combined Starting XI
As for the combined starting XI, the squad reflects the probabilities. These are two well-balanced and evenly matched opponents.
Chops: Ok, let’s start with the #1’s. Right now, Alisson and Marc-André ter Stegen are inarguably two of the top five GKs in the world. There’s a razor-thin margin in their stats and ratings. Going into this, I thought Alisson would be a runaway but that wasn’t the case.
Everett: This was one of several spots where you really can’t go wrong. Whether you go by the numbers or the eye test, you reach the same conclusion: Alisson and ter Stegen have been excellent this season. WhoScored gives Alisson a 6.77 rating in the EPL, compared to ter Stegen’s 6.67 in La Liga. It’s also close in UCL play, but Alisson (6.71) is slightly lower-rated than ter Stegen (6.77). Ultimately, though it’s impossible to go against Alisson considering his phenomenal play domestically, where he’s given up just 20 goals in 35 games, with a ridiculous 19 shutouts. While we’re talking numbers, though, let’s not forget to mention ter Stegen’s 14 clean sheets in 33 La Liga matches.
Chops: While Alisson has slightly better stats, for me the deciding factor is — this year — he’s come up HUGE in the moments he’s been tested. His save in the 92nd minute against Napoli in the group stage is the singular reason why Liverpool is even here. He’s been in a pressure cooker all year with the Premier League title chase and Champions League run. If Liverpool need a big save to close out a game, he’s ready.
Everett: Ter Stegen has been really good in his own right, but his team has won its biggest games this year pretty comfortably. The second legs of both the UCL round of 16 and quarters were easy victories for Barcelona. It will be interesting to see how the German fares if either of both of these games come down to the wire.
Chops: On to the backline, where we had our hardest decisions.
Everett: Virgil van Dijk is a no-brainer, but after that, there were multiple players worth starting at each of the other three spots.
Jordi Alba has quietly been one of Barcelona’s most dangerous players going forward, while also helping hold things down for a team that’s been more stout defensively than people realize. The debate between Alba and Andy Robertson was as lengthy as any we had, but we gave Alba a slight edge, due in part to concerns Robbo’s massive workload might catch up with him.
Gerard Piqué, at 32, is showing no signs of his age, and has been in great form in the UCL.
We entertained getting creative and having Robbo out of position at right back, but Trent Alexander-Arnold is a solid choice who is in form — and he also keeps our lineup positionally accurate.
Chops: Yeah, leaving Robbo off was a tough decision. What TAA and Robertson mean to the Liverpool attack and overall tactical strategy can’t be overlooked. But if we’re giving weight to recent form, TAA has been on fire, and Robertson, while still excellent, looks a little gassed –so he’s left off.
Everett: This is a stout foursome who can also threaten an opponent with Alba and TAA’s speed on the flanks.
Chops: Midfield I thought would be more of a debate, but we actually saw eye-to-eye on this one. Tactically, the way Liverpool uses their midfield (with TAA and Robbo booming up the wings as offensive fulcrums) somewhat discredits the work the Reds do in that portion of the field. Fabinho has been excellent after a slow start. Naby Keita has started to find his form. James Milner is steady and Klopp’s choice on the road. But the true standout recently is Jordan Henderson. After meeting with Klopp and asking to have the freedom to play higher up the pitch, he’s been a revelation. All season, the one nitpick complaint about the Reds has been a lack of creativity in the midfield. Henderson has helped unlock the offense and has gotten the front three back in sync.
Everett: I won’t get too groundbreaking or analytical here regarding Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets: both have been really good for a long time and their experience is a huge asset for the Catalans. Neither has the notoriety of a Messi or Pique, but their intelligence and poise have helped buoy this team. Henderson is deserving of the third midfield spot, especially considering Arthur’s ups and downs for Barça.
Chops: With Liverpool, it’s hard not to think of their forwards almost as a singular entity, greater than the sum of their parts (each part, by the way, is pretty great). However, you just can’t ignore the individual brilliance of Barcelona’s firepower. I mean, we’re out of adjectives for how absurd this is getting with one particular player.
Everett: Messi, at this point, is a lock. Is there anything more to say about (probably? definitely?) the best player we’ve ever seen?
The discussion regarding the two players who should join him up top is much more interesting. Mo Salah is not scoring at the clip he did a year ago, but that says much more about his absurd ‘17-18 campaign than anything negative about his output this year. Salah and Messi are easy choices.
The selection between Luis Suárez and Sadio Mané is likely divisive. But the Uruguayan just plays too well with Messi for me to leave him out right now. Messi’s vision and talent as a facilitator must make it a dream to play with him, but that doesn’t mean Suárez’s recent work alongside him should be totally discounted. With 21 goals in La Liga and six assists this season, Suárez remains one of the most dangerous attacking players in the world at the age of 32. WhoScored also rates him higher (the site rates Suárez at 7.44, compared to Mané’s 7.22) in the UCL this season, and that’s despite Suárez having no UCL goals, while Mané has four. Suárez should have at least one UCL goal already, (I disagreed with the scorekeeper in the first leg against Manchester United, who ruled his header into the net an own-goal by Luke Shaw), and I expect him to find the net again soon.
Chops: Yeah, Mané has been in EXCELLENT form of late and has been a key contributor in the Champions League. Suárez, though, is just a tick better and more seasoned overall, particularly in the center forward role.
Finally, the manager spot goes to Jurgen Klopp. He’s got Liverpool peaking at the right time. They haven’t lost since early January. They’re showing no signs of strain from the dual trophy runs. He’s mostly pulled the right strings for line-ups and tactics, and when he hasn’t, he’s course-corrected quickly.
Everett: I’ll add that Ernesto Valverde has been better than people have realized this year, but I would go with Klopp as well.