Former Liverpool defenders Jamie Carragher and John Arne Riise have revealed how the Reds could keep Barcelona’s Lionel Messi quiet ahead of Liverpool’s Champions League semi final tie.
Jurgen Klopp’s men travel to the Camp Nou for the first leg of the clash on Wednesday, before welcoming the Catalans to Anfield the following Tuesday. The Argentine superstar is enjoying another remarkable goalscoring season at Barça, securing the club their second successive La Liga title over the weekend and scoring his 46th goal of the campaign.
Messi was centre stage in the last round of Champions League fixtures, hitting a brace as his side dismissed Manchester United 4-0 on aggregate. The 31-year-old has been untouchable in recent times, with many wondering whether Liverpool are capable of stopping him.
Riise and Carragher both featured the last time Messi played against the Merseysiders in an official match, a last-16 match-up in 2007 that the Premier League team won on away goals. The Barcelona forward was a ghost in both legs, struggling to leave any lasting impact on proceedings.
Alvaro Arbeloa was given the task of marking Messi that night, with Carragher speaking to Goal about why the full-back had such success against the then-teenager: “[Rafa Benitez] told [Arbeloa] he was playing left-back, which was a bit of a surprise.
“Rafa had a reputation of being very considered and of planning weeks in advance, but he was capable of springing a surprise on the day of games, too.
“Messi wasn’t the main man back then – it was Ronaldinho’s team really – but we all knew about this kid coming through who was going to become a superstar,” the pundit continued.
“Obviously we knew he played on the right and cut inside, so Rafa’s idea was to have Arbeloa on his stronger side dealing with that. Every time Messi cut in, it would be onto the defender’s strong foot.”
The strategy worked wonderfully for Benitez, with Riise operating at left-wing during the clash. He stated: “He was so good at reading the game and getting tight to his winger to shut down the space, and he did it all night.
“I think it helped that we had basically two left-backs playing. He knew I would run and cover him, and I knew that if I went forward, he would be there behind me to defend.”