By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde trusts the Nou Camp faithful to give his side the support they need in their Champions League semi-final first leg against Liverpool, playing down Juergen Klopp’s claim that the stadium will not intimidate his team.
The Nou Camp is the biggest stadium in Europe with a capacity of 99,000 yet it does not have the same reputation for noise or unconditional support as Liverpool’s Anfield home.
Liverpool coach Klopp said in an interview with broadcaster DAZN that his team should not be overwhelmed by playing at Barca’s ground, saying: “The Camp Nou is just a stadium. It is pretty big, but it is no temple of football.”
However, Valverde backed the Barcelona supporters to turn up the volume in the game to help his side move towards a first Champions League final in four years.
“The fans at the Nou Camp have already played a decisive role this season. We’ve had over 90,000 fans at our last few games and we have felt the difference they made,” Valverde told a news conference ahead of Wednesday’s match.
“We expect the same tomorrow, and we know our fans will give us that extra push, just like Liverpool will get at Anfield. I think Klopp said that to cool the hype about the game, because it’s just another game.”
Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic added: “We respect Klopp’s opinion but playing in the Nou Camp is different, it’s special. We don’t care if it’s seen as a temple or not. I’d love to be able to play at the Nou Camp every week.”
Rakitic said his side were excited about playing in their first Champions League semi-final since winning the competition in 2015, adding that the players had an extra spring in their step after lifting the Liga title on Saturday.
“We are very happy to be in the semi-finals and after winning the league we’re also feeling really confident, we can’t wait for the game to arrive,” added the Croatia international.
“There are still many things we need to improve on but most of all we are excited. We have to learn from the mistakes we made in the last few years but we’re really up for it and we know the best is yet to come.”
While Barca may be on cloud nine after sealing an eighth title in 11 years, Valverde warned his side about the dangers of a relentless Liverpool side who are a point off the top in the Premier League after earning a staggering 91 so far this term.
“I cannot say which team is in better form, we are the champions of our league but their season speaks for itself,” Valverde added, with Liverpool pursuing Manchester City in the domestic title race with two games left.
“They have a great pressing style, they play at a very fast pace and they have a magnificent attack. They are a very difficult team to beat and the fact they have only lost once (in the Premier League) says a lot about them.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris)