It was probably the tie both teams didn’t want when the draw was made a few weeks ago. Jurgen Klopp’s never stop running, pressing Liverpool versus Pep Guardiola’s sophisticated, patient Manchester City. A clash of the two teams playing the way the game should be played. So, what can we expect.
Make the people happy
Klopp’s pre-match rally cry of ‘Be brave, be confident, make the people happy’ has a hint of Bill Shankly about it. Shankly spoke about ‘making the people happy’ on a number of occasions and he’s (Klopp) probably touching out to the Anfield faithful that he needs them onside like never before. I don’t think he’ll have any worries on that point, with the Kop especially at full, noisy voice come 7.45pm tonight.
Guardiola won’t change his philosophy for anyone or for any game. Whilst he admires the way Liverpool play, Guardiola has a belief that after all the talk of the Anfield atmosphere, he simply has a better team to progress over two legs. It’s a belief he had at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich previously, and a belief he’s brought to Manchester.
Two tribes go to war
Klopp and Guardiola’s time in the Bundesliga overlapped for a couple of seasons whilst manager of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, so they are no strangers to these big clashes. They have of course also clashed in the Premier League with their current teams, with goals galore coming in the two clashes this season. Success for both in these previous clashes have been mixed and their head to head is pretty close and there is a mutual respect between the two.
Tonight’s match for Liverpool marks a real return to the upper echelons of the big clubs of European football. It’s a match and stage made for the club and a match of course made for Anfield. It’s a stage the club should relish and embrace given their illustrious past. Manchester City would be foolish to underestimate the ‘Anfield factor’ and even with seasoned campaigners in their ranks, nothing will have prepared them for what lies ahead.
Manchester City are still trying to make a mark on the European stage. With the Premier League virtually won, the Champions League is next on the list of Sheik Mansour, the wealthy owner from the UAE. Ultimately, it’s what persuaded the Sheik to hire Guardiola in the first place, to put them on a world stage.
More questions than answers
Key battles will be fought all over the pitch. How will City nullify Liverpool’s flying front 3? Can Liverpool stop the dual threat of Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane? The battle in centre of midfield. Can City’s wing/full backs push Liverpool’s wide men backwards? The questions are endless. It’s what makes this tie so difficult t0o predict. It’s one of those games were my heart says Liverpool and my head says City.
Liverpool had a relatively comfortable passage to the ¼ finals. They topped a group that included Sevilla, Maribor and Spartak Moscow, and then easily dispatched Porto over two legs, including a stunning win in a rain-soaked Portugal.
Manchester City won their group, which included Napoli, Shakhtar Donetsk and Feyenoord, even more comfortably, winning 5 out of the 6 games. Their only defeat was in their last game, when qualification was already guaranteed, away to Shakhtar. In the knockout stage, Basel were defeated on aggregate despite losing the 2nd leg at The Etihad due a convincing first leg win over in Switzerland.
Liverpool are coming into the tie with an injury crisis surrounding their defence and mainly their centre halves. Joel Matip will miss the tie due to an injury picked up at Crystal Palace last Saturday, along with the unfortunate Adam Lallana. These two are added to a list that includes defenders Joe Gomez and Ragnar Klavan, with Emre Can a huge doubt. I expect Dejan Lovren to partner Virgil Van Dijk.
Liverpool’s Alberto Moreno and Jordan Henderson are a yellow card away from being suspended for the 2nd leg. However, Moreno is unlikely to be involved with the form of Andrew Robertson in front of him.
Manchester City’s big loss is record goal scorer Sergio Aguero, with the Argentinian out with a knee injury. The injury has seen him miss several games for City and international matches for his national team. Gabriel Jesus is likely to retain his place and carry the burden for the hunt for an away goal or two.
Whatever happens over the two legs, the match is the most anticipated all English clash for years. Klopp has urged Liverpool to ‘write our own history’. Guardiola wants his side to trust their talents and have a mindset of ‘a fearlessness when it comes to failure’. One thing is for certain tonight and that is there will be no buses parked on that pitch. Who will land that knockout punch? Let’s get ready to rumble….