Former Real Madrid and Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has praised Lionel Messi for being “the special one all the time” ahead of Barcelona’s clash with Liverpool on Wednesday.
The two clubs will meet at Camp Nou in the first leg of the last-four tie, with a place in the European Cup final against either Tottenham or Ajax up for grabs.
Barca dispatched United 4-0 on aggregate in the previous round, while the Reds progressed at the expense of Porto after scoring a 6-1 win over two legs.
Lionel Messi was in typically brilliant form against the Red Devils, scoring two in a 3-0 home win, and his general form this season suggests that Liverpool will have a difficult time keeping him quiet.
The Argentine leads the race for the Golden Shoe with 34 La Liga goals and he has scored a further 12 in cup competitions, having played 44 matches in total.
Mourinho, who has previously pitted his wits against Messi while in charge at Real Madrid, has predicted that he will lead Barcelona to their first Champions League final since 2015.
“I would say, Barca without Messi, Liverpool are favourites, but with Messi, Messi is Messi,” the Portuguese told RT during his ‘On the Touchline with Jose Mourinho’ show.
“I don’t say that Messi is the special one [of the week] in here because he is the special one all the time.
“He scores two goals against Manchester United… he scores two goals all the time.”
Liverpool reached the final of the competition last season, only to be beaten 3-1 by Real Madrid, but they have used that failure as a motivational tool this time around.
After strengthening the squad in the 2018 summer transfer window, Jurgen Klopp has masterminded a Premier League title challenge as well as another strong run in Europe, with two trophies now within his team’s sights come May.
When asked if he thinks the Reds are a more formidable outfit this season, Mourinho responded: “I think so, they are better [than last season].”
However, the 56-year-old also warned that despite Liverpool’s obvious strengths, they are still underdogs against Barca.
“Liverpool’s strength, [Virgil] van Dijk is phenomenal, and then every game, OK, not every game, but here, here, here, not here, here, here, here, Firmino, Salah, Mane, they score and they score and they score,” Mourinho added.
“Tell me a game where Salah, Firmino, Mane all three together they didn’t score. It’s very rare.
“The reality is that Liverpool last season, they played the final, and this season they are in the semi-finals with, in my opinion, 50 per cent chance of being in the final.”