It is time now for the 2nd leg of our Champions League tie against Manchester City. As we all know we beat them 3-0 at home last week, a result that even our most optimistic fans might not have expected. Regarding player availability it looks like Salah will be fit enough, but others are still questionable. Moreno is a doubt, Robertson should be okay, and Henderson is suspended. Obviously Can and Matip are out for the year.
Sure we have a 3-0 lead, but we play away now, and this is Manchester City we are talking about here. We have to go into the game thinking it is the first leg, 0-0. Obviously I will say that we should go with our strongest lineup. Karius, Robertson, VVD, Lovren, Trent A-A; Milner, Wijnaldum, Ox; Mane, Firmino, Salah.
Last time City favoured the left a little too much. I expect Both Sane and Sterling to stay extremely wide, and everyone else to crowd and overload the middle for City. De Bruyne and co. will most likely be further up the pitch compared to last time where he came back a lot to receive from deep positions. This means that I expect inverted fullback play from Delph and Walker.
So for us defensively, I think we play a 4-4-2, with Mane dropping down to the midfield line. We stay in our mid block, rarely venturing past the top half of the centre circle. Our midfield four should stay very compact because City will have a lot of numbers in the middle. Having an extra man in this midfield may help to cover the two 10’s they usually play with. The downside to this is that with one less play up top, we may not be able to pressure their ball carrier in their initial build up phase all the time, so we may just look to put intense pressure on their weak link at the back. Perhaps Otamendi? Swift, calculated counters will also be the way to go. We do not have to bomb forward every single time we win the ball. But if we feel like we have a real shot of striking danger, then they can go. Otherwise, maybe more control would be ideal for this game.
Offensively, I think we attack strictly down the wings. We lose some dynamism because we are right next to touchline, but we have more control should we lose the ball. In this game, I think we should rely heavier on our counter press, and it is easier to counter press by the wings because City have one area of the field completely blocked. Obviously this is because they would theoretically be so close to the touchline. I am not at all saying we should purposely lose the ball so that we can win it back right away and strike when they are unorganised, but I think that we will get more opportunities to do this if we combine down the flanks to attack.
At the end of the day I am thinking the game finishes in a 1-1 affair. It is obviously essential that the tension remains the same as it was before the first leg, so that they remain focused for the entirety of the game. If we let our guard down for even one minute they will kill us. Luckily I believe we will be ultra focused considering we could potentially return to the semifinals of the competition for the first time in many years.