Phil Thompson, the acting Liverpool manager, said before last night's Champions' League encounter that revenge was a "horrible" word in a footballing context. Barcelona, having atoned for their Uefa Cup semi-final exit at Anfield six months earlier by coming from behind to open the second phase with an emphatic victory, may be inclined to disagree.
Michael Owen gave Liverpool the start they craved with his 18th goal in as many games for club and country, only for Patrick Kluivert, who conceded the decisive penalty in April, to level. Fabio Rochemback fired Barca in front, with Marc Overmars running on to Xavi's pass from a blatantly offside position to add a third with six minutes left.
Liverpool were entitled to feel aggrieved over the former Arsenal player's intervention. They also had a case for offside, by a fraction, on Kluivert's equaliser, but overall they found Barcelona a more formidable proposition, both from their last meeting and from Dynamo Kiev, Boavista and Borussia Dortmund.
The Premiership leaders badly missed the suspended Dietmar Hamann's ability to protect the central defence and to break up attacks. The evening also underlined the suspicion that Steven Gerrard, for all his awesome potential, still has some way to go before reaching the same level as Rivaldo. Gerrard gave the ball away with unusual regularity, whereas the great Brazilian caressed it in the face of stern challenges and practically coaxed it to colleagues.
Barcelona did not perform as impressively as at Leeds in the same competition last year, yet still gave Liverpool a lesson in the art of retaining possession. That said, the outcome might have been different had Owen not missed what he later described as a "sitter" moments before Rochemback's goal.
Thompson, who laughed off the suggestion by a Spanish journalist that his country's press were reporting Owen as being "top of Real Madrid's shopping list", took consolation from the fact that his first defeat in eight matches as understudy for Gérard Houllier came against an "exceptional" team. "It was a high-quality game. They played some great stuff and kept the ball well, in space and under pressure, which is a learning process for us. But I thought we played very well.
"Games turn on incidents. Just before their first goal, Emile [Heskey] missed a great opportunity. And just before their second, Michael missed what he said was a sitter. The ball just wouldn't come down for him and they went upfield and scored."
Barcelona started uncomfortably, having had three players get yellow cards for fouls and seen Luis Enrique limp off in favour of Overmars before their goal fell in the 26th minute. Gerrard found Vladimir Smicer, whose through-ball played Owen in behind the defence. As Roberto Oscar Bonano raced out, the deftest of touches angled the ball in before an exultant Kop.
One jinking run by Owen culminated in a shot by Heskey which Phillip Cocu slid off the line. The significance of Cocu's intervention was immediately magnified as Barcelona replied in the 41st minute. Overmars' cross was laid off by Rivaldo to Kluivert, who scored with a volley from 12 yards as Liverpool appealed forlornly for a flag.
Barcelona emerged for the second half playing what resembled a speeded up version of their earlier, more tentative approach. Rivaldo, rested for the weekend draw at Las Palmas after his World Cup exertions with Brazil, became ever more involved, while Overmars was evidently intent on showing he should have started the game.
Jerzy Dudek had to save with his legs to prevent Kluivert putting Barcelona ahead. However, Owen seemed certain to score after pouncing on the ball as Bonano spilled a Smicer cross. He flicked the ball round the keeper, but succeeded only in diverting it beyond the far post.
Barcelona seized the lead with a stunning 64th-minute goal. There seemed little menace until Rochemback stepped in to bludgeon the ball past Dudek for a goal of brutal beauty. As Carles Rexach, the Barcelona coach, noted afterwards, that forced Liverpool, essentially a counter-attacking side, to "chase the game". Overmars, with the help of another substitute, a replacement linesman, made sure they did not catch it.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Carragher, Henchoz, Hyypia, Riise; Murphy, Gerrard, McAllister (Berger, 68), Smicer (Litmanen, 79); Owen, Heskey (Fowler, 64). Substitutes not used: Diomède, Biscan, Wright, Kirkland (gk).
Barcelona (4-3-3) Bonano; Christanval, Andersson, De Boer, Coco; Gabri (Rochemback, 57), Xavi, Cocu; Luis Enrique (Overmars, 17), Kluivert (Reiziger, 89), Rivaldo. Substitutes not used: Saviola, Gerard, Geovanni, Reina (gk).
Referee: H Krug (Germany).