There was a poll on Liverpoolfc.tv yesterday, regarding what is considered the greatest side recent memory – Barcelona – and whether or not they are better than what is considered Liverpool’s greatest ever side: the ‘87-’88 side. This is a tough one, as they played quite different styles of football and for the most part, that Liverpool side was never really tested against European opposition. But as it is, that side tended to sweep all before them and it is likely the club would now be sitting on another 3 or 4 European Cups had that Liverpool side been competing in Europe.
Given that there is over 20 years between the two sides and that football (and you could say, footballs, literally) has changed immensely since the late 80’s, there is only one option available to decide this fairly and that is comparing the first 11’s of both sides. Also, for the sake of argument, I’m going use Barca’s preferred formation of 4-3-3.
GK - For me, and I imagine, most fans outside of Liverpool, this one should be relatively easy. Let’s be honest now, Victor Valdes is Spain’s 3rd choice, whilst Bruce Grobbelaar was the best goalkeeper around in his day. Sure, he made the odd clanger (very rarely) but as an on-field personality, he was peerless and is still considered Liverpool’s greatest ‘keeper by many Liverpool fans. Liverpool 1:0 Barcelona
LB – For the sake of argument, Steve Nicol will be Liverpool’s left-back, as we’re looking at ‘best 11’s’, so to fit all of the Red’s best players in, we’re going to have to move one or two players around. So if Steve Nicol was to come head-to-head with Eric Abidal, what would the outcome be? Well, I think it’s fair to say that the Frenchman would lose. Nicol was a rampaging type of player; typically Scottish in that he was very aggressive in his style of football. This amounted to one hell of an attacking full-back, contributing assists and goals with regularity. Compare this with Abidal who, in almost 100 games for Barcelona, has yet to score. Liverpool 2:0 Barcelona
CD - Looking at the two pairs of centre backs head to head is a relatively tough one; Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson vs. Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol. All four are incredibly good defenders but only three could be considered great footballers, and unfortunately Carlos Puyol isn’t one of those. A great defender and a hard, tough player he may be but as genuine footballing talent goes, he leaves a lot to be desired. Purely in defensive terms, Liverpool again have the edge in that Hansen and Lawrenson have greater height and both played in a very competitive and hard league. Whereas both Puyol and Pique are rarely (let’s be honest, are they ever?) tested. If Puyol or Pique were to come up against some of the strikers around in the 1st Division in the late 80’s, they may not have faired as well. But then, the little they have to do defensively is largely down to how good the players in front of them are, as we will see. Liverpool 4:0 Barcelona
RB - As a first team regular during the 1987-88 season, Gary Gillespie is up against Dani Alves for the right back position. I think we can all agree that this is a pretty one-sided affair as well; as good as Gillespie was a times for Liverpool he is not really in the same league as Alves as a full-back. Given that Liverpool didn’t have an outstanding right back during that season, it is perhaps a bit of an unfair battle but as an out-and-out attacking full-back, offering goals, assists and basically for spending 90% of his time in the oppositions’ half, Alves wins this one. Liverpool 4:1 Barcelona
LCM - At left midfield Liverpool were probably at their strongest; two words: John Barnes. If Barnes had been appreciated as much in the 80’s and 90’s as he should’ve been (and, again, if Liverpool had been competing abroad) Barnes would probably have won more individual awards too. However, up against Iniesta, it’s a tough one. They’re both quite different players, so it is only fair to judge them both on their impact on their current teams. For Barnes, he was very much the key cog in Liverpool’s team; he was the outlet, the flair player, the man the Reds often looked to turn tight games. He contributed well over 100 goals in his Liverpool career from the left side and probably twice as many assists. As for Iniesta, he is a slightly more understated player. Not scoring as many goals as Barnes or chipping in with as many assists. For Barca, Andres is very much a big-game player; if there’s a Champions League final to be won, he is usually queuing up to lay on the winning goal or make the match-winning pass. But then, so was Barnes. So the only fair way to decide is to take into consideration their overall effects on both sides throughout a season and here Barnes is the hands down winner, often scoring 20+ goals a season from midfield and setting almost as many up in the process. Liverpool 5:1 Barcelona