Eidur Gudjohnsen had to make it nerve-wracking, but a 1-0 loss will more than suffice. Normally when Liverpool are dominant but don’t make their opportunities count, it’s a kick to the crotch, but the away goals rule is looking a pretty excellent rule right now. Liverpool had to defend staunchly, keep Barcelona from playing their game, control the tempo, and prevent two goals. They did all of those things, and it’s why they’re through to the next round.
But with 10 shots to Barca’s 1 in the first 45 minutes, you’d think Liverpool would have settled the tie before halftime. Riise narrowly missed wide and thundered another off the bar before 15 minutes were off the clock. The crossbar took another beating when Sissoko sent in a speculative volley with Valdes out of his goal, and later, Valdes was again called into action, saving from Bellamy and Kuyt before Puyol cleared Riise’s header off the line. All in the first half.
It took until Gudjohnsen’s entrance in the 71st minute for Barca to play with any real impetus. For the majority of the game, it looked as if Liverpool were the team behind. When Barca had possession, they frequently passed across the backline looking for an opening until the Anfield crowd started to boo. Ronaldinho’s chance in the 53rd minute, where he turned Carragher, ran past Arbeloa and hit the post, was the only other time Barca truly threatened until Gudjohnsen rounded Reina in the 75th minute. Which set up a fun final 15 minutes.
Even with the 0-1 scoreline, I feel secure in saying the team was excellent for the most part. Barcelona will continue to have nightmares about Momo Sissoko, who covered the entire pitch, closed down Barcelona players immediately, opened up the field with an improved eye for the pass, and made himself a general nuisance, to put it gently. It’s an absolute shame he picked up a yellow card that rules him out of the next match, but it’s a testament to his growing maturity that the early yellow did nothing to upset the rest of his game.
Carragher and Agger were also again immense at the back. For me it's a toss up as to who's man of the match, Carra or Momo. Carragher made his usual last-ditch tackles superbly and with aplomb, but Agger defendly strongly as well (Finnan too), and both were dominant in the air, an aspect of their games that had been questioned in the past. Gerrard was also excellent, bursting down the right early on, and driving Liverpool forward late in the game when Barca could have gotten a second. Liverpool got good work down both sides of the pitch; both Riise and Gerrard bombed forward, but got back to defend and in getting back to defend, prevented the triumvirate of Ronaldinho, Messi, and Eto’o from really getting into the game.
And I must mention Kuyt as well, who was another that was absolutely everywhere on the field. He needs to have a greater scoring return to be a truly world-class forward, but his defense from the front and overall work rate were outstanding today. Adjectives truly do fail me. His harassment of Barca’s backline and midfield was a key component in keeping the Catalans from implementing their style of play on the match, and only later on, when players began to tire, did the game open up for Barca.
When the draw took place, there were long odds on Liverpool to go through to the next round. Now out of both domestic cups and the title race, it’s a small consolation to have beaten the Champions League holders and progress to the final 8, but a consolation nonetheless. Friday’s draw will see who Liverpool face in the quarter-finals, but on the performance over the last two legs, they’ll be confident in whomever they face. Which can only be a good thing, both in Europe and to see out the rest of the league campaign.