Although others might have caught Liverpool’s attention as well, Nicol Barella was as elegant as ever in securing Inter Milan’s spot in the Champions League final.
Theoretically, there wasn’t much that could have been learned from the Champions League semifinal that couldn’t have been learned from watching Serie A this season. In actuality, however, there was a lot of transfer intrigue for outside observers in the solely Milanese affair.
There is still room for the intangibles in a sector that is becoming more data-driven. One of the most important is how athletes handle pressure. For Liverpool, which has taken part in three of the last five Champions League finals, it was interesting to see how Nicol Barella fared in a derby that was very out of the ordinary with a spot in club football’s biggest game on the line.
It’s not like Barella hasn’t already proven himself on a stage like this—he started Italy’s victory over England in the European Championship. But at the very least, this served as another reminder of the impact his talent can have on any game.
As it happens, Barella performs very well in the statistics, but it has the impression that he is the type of player who has stood the test of time and must be observed in order to be fully appreciated. He seems to be born with the kind of awareness that cannot be learned as he glides across the football field, making space for himself and others.
Watching Barella play for Inter in the semifinals was a reminder that this is the closest thing to a like-for-like replacement since Liverpool backed off of Jude Bellingham. Even though a transfer is currently regarded as a remote possibility, Neil Jones recently affirmed that Jürgen Klopp’s team is “very, very admiring” of the midfielder.
While he was the highlight of this Champions League match, Milan players from both sides made an impact. Liverpool could do worse than to treat a few of them harshly.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s new position brings up some intriguing transfer issues for Liverpool. ‘Hybrid’ full-backs, such as those who can also tuck in as center-backs or move into midfield, are unquestionably made more alluring by this. Partially fulfilling both requirements is Denzel Dumfries.
Alexander-Arnold’s traditional full-back position can be filled by him because he is unquestionably offensively capable. He demonstrated this against Milan; from his wing-back position, a quick pull-back resulted in a great chance for none other than Barella in the opening period, even though an earlier offense was flagged for offside. He has played a few games in the middle of the defense, but he would also be more than capable of slipping in behind the number 66.
The fact that Dumfries has played in a few games as a defensive midfielder suggests that he could provide the kind of adaptable cover that Klopp needs, especially with James Milner expected to leave. The Dutchman, 27, is two years younger than Milner was when he first arrived at Anfield but is older than the traditional Liverpool signing. Furthermore, he is just a year older than the highly coveted Barella. There may be many years of valuable service ahead, particularly in a squad role.
Given that he had to miss the first leg, many people anticipated Rafael Leo would stand out. Because Dumfries and Matteo Darmian worked well together to keep him mostly quiet, despite his recent return to fitness, he was unable to shine.
Sandro Tonali, who was reportedly once a target for Liverpool according to the Express, ended up being one of Milan’s standouts. Inter was in the lead for a considerable amount of time, but the Italian midfielder played a key role when the eventual winners were shaken.
His progress over the past year, and in particular the number of assists, reflect his determination to look ahead and find a way to his goal. Also, his defensive activity is not too bad. Although someone like Barella would be a completely different class of midfield addition, his valiant performance in the Champions League suggests it might also be a wise move.
However, Liverpool’s attention will inevitably turn to Inter, which richly deserves to advance to the championship game. Barella’s audition against either Real Madrid or Manchester City will be incredibly fascinating, and Anfield scouts would be well-advised to keep an eye on Dumfries as well.