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Liverpool’s shepherds turned the GOAT into a lost sheep

Liverpool overwhelmed Lionel Messi and left the greatest player in the world looking distinctly average

Everywhere Lionel Messi went, Fabinho’s big toe went with him.

Just as the heavens opened and Messi threatened to rain on Liverpool’s parade, the Brazilian swooped in with an umbrella to keep Alisson’s sheets dry.

If most adult humans are 60% water then Fabinho is 99.99% leg. In the 94th minute those legs galloped up the field, nutmegged Clement Lenglet and lured Messi into a foul to seal Liverpool’s famous remontada.

When man marking isn’t enough then you’ve got to turn to Messi marking

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When man marking isn’t enough then you’ve got to turn to Messi marking

It wasn’t just Fabinho putting the brakes on Messi. Fellow midfielder Jordan Henderson also finished with four tackles to his name.

Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip chipped in with another four, while Andy Robertson, James Milner, Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum contributed one each.

But to concentrate too heavily on Liverpool’s volume of tackles would be to miss the point entirely. After all, Barcelona actually made more tackles than Liverpool, aided by Artural Vidal’s unrelenting dedication to shin-on-shin combat.

Liverpool didn’t stop Messi by tackling him. They stopped Messi by herding him into areas of safety.

The Red Arrows

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The Red Arrows

There’s a temptation when playing against Messi to be drawn to the ball like moths to your finest cashmere jumper.

The 31-year-old locating the merest hint of space is usually the signal to swarm Messi and stop him as soon as possible, whatever the cost.

It’s a natural reaction but if Phil Jones’ aghast legs could speak they would tell you that Messi has no problem escaping tight spaces.

Liverpool took a different approach.

It’s happening again

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It’s happening again

Whenever Messi picked up the ball Jurgen Klopp instructed his team to get runners either side of him, escorting him towards Liverpool’s most fortified areas of the pitch.

At one stage Messi found himself surrounded by five Liverpool players. That left Barcelona’s other nine outfield players up against Liverpool’s remaining five, odds that don’t usually spell good news on a football pitch.

Far from being panicked at the sight of Messi in full flight, Liverpool were in control.

Van Dijk had the serenity to be able to point to where he wanted Messi to be corralled, as if directing a film on the Argentine’s latest capitulation.

Take one

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Take one

Time and time again Messi turned left and right only to find both lanes busy.

Attempting to reverse was impossible with Henderson and Fabinho in his rear-view mirror, leaving no option but to drive up Van Dijk and Matip’s one-way road.

No player was dispossessed more times than Messi. It was also telling that Liverpool’s shepherding forced him to spend most of the game in the hectic environment of Anfield’s cramped midfield, rather than wondering where he pleased.

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Messi looking lost is nothing new.

He regularly spends the first five minutes of games aimlessly meandering around the pitch before snapping into life, having assessed every area of potential vulnerability.

But Anfield was different. He was lost because Liverpool had control of his steering wheel, not because his Sat Nav was adjusting.

For that, Liverpool deserved immense credit. It takes a perfect team performance to make the greatest player to step boot on a football pitch look like Divock Origi Luis Suarez.

Big Divock Energy

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Big Divock Energy

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