Sports Mole selects its star-studded combined XI from the squads of Barcelona and Liverpool ahead of their Champions League semi-final first leg at the Camp Nou.
Two European heavyweights go head to head in a mouth-watering Champions League semi-final on Wednesday night as Barcelona welcome Liverpool to the Camp Nou for the first leg.
Both sides have lifted the trophy on five previous occasions and are enjoying seasons which could yet go down as among the best in their illustrious respective histories.
Barcelona finally secured leg one of a potential treble by wrapping up the La Liga title with victory over Levante on Saturday, while Liverpool remain firmly in the hunt for the Premier League crown.
It promises to be a star-studded encounter in Catalonia, and here Sports Mole attempts the near-impossible task of choosing a combined XI from the two squads, using only players available for Wednesday’s showdown.
There are difficult decisions all over the field in this XI, and it starts in goal with both Alisson Becker and Marc-Andre ter Stegen among the world’s very best. Both are blessed with similar attributes – as good on the ball as they are at keeping it out of their net – but Alisson’s transformative impact on Liverpool as the final piece of the jigsaw narrowly gives him the edge.
The Brazilian is protected by two of the best centre-backs in the game too, and it is difficult to imagine many strikers ruffling the feathers of a Virgil van Dijk and Gerard Pique partnership.
Van Dijk’s towering form for Liverpool was recognised by his fellow professionals as he won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award on Sunday night, while Pique’s continued importance to Barcelona is evidenced by the fact that no outfield player has started more games for Ernesto Valverde‘s side during their treble push this season.
Pique is the only Barcelona representative in this defence, though, with Liverpool providing both full-backs. Three more assists between them on Friday saw Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold move on to 24 combined for the season, and that attacking threat sees them edge out Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo for a place in the XI.
Both teams like to play a 4-3-3 system, but there are some players we simply cannot leave out and a 4-2-3-1 formation is the only way to include them all. Barca provide both holding midfielders as a result, with the evergreen Sergio Busquets being joined by Arthur, whose debut season at the Camp Nou has gone so well that he has already been mentioned in the same breath as Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
It is no mean feat to make it into this midfield either, with Ivan Rakitic, Philippe Coutinho and Arturo Vidal among those to miss out for Barcelona alone. A number of Liverpool midfielders have also enjoyed fine campaigns, but Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Naby Keita, James Milner and Jordan Henderson all have to play second fiddle to the Barca duo.
There is world-class quality all over the pitch, but it is in attack that this team really sets itself apart. Lionel Messi is, of course, the easiest choice of the lot having once again defied all logic by scoring 46 goals in 45 games this season, and the Argentine should be firing on all cylinders having been used sparingly by Valverde so far this month.
Mohamed Salah was not a million miles off those figures last season and, while the 2018-19 campaign has not been quite as prolific, he still has 25 goals to his name and is leading the race for the Premier League Golden Boot once again.
One of Salah’s closest rivals in that battle is Sadio Mane, who joined the Egyptian in helping himself to a brace on Friday night and is enjoying the best season of his career so far. Ousmane Dembele provides stiff competition for the left-wing position, but Mane is arguably Liverpool’s most important attacker at the moment and will be one of the main dangermen for Barcelona to look out for on Wednesday night.
Roberto Firmino is another who is unfortunate to miss out on a place in this XI, but we cannot look past a former Liverpool favourite Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan was adored during his time at Anfield and has garnered similar adulation at the Camp Nou, having scored 21 league goals and 24 across all competitions this season.
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