After Liverpool’s superb, and widely unexpected 3-0 victory in the Champions League ¼ final 1st leg last Wednesday, what can we expect tonight?
A wounded animal
There is no doubt that Manchester City will be a wounded animal. Their expected Premier League coronation was delayed last Saturday evening by bitter city rivals Manchester United on their own patch, in a 2-3 defeat, despite leading 2-0 at half-time. The two results back-to-back will have hurt Pep Guardiola’s side. He will have rarely had a worse 3 or 4 days in football management.
City, despite a cautious start on Saturday, took the game to United in the first half and this is the City side Guardiola will hope he will get at Liverpool tonight. A fast start is critical for the blues, with a need to put Liverpool on a back foot.
Sergio Aguero should be back for City and after Gabriel Jesus’ tame performance at Anfield, Aguero will add a much-needed and welcome guile to a side chasing goals to perform the unexpected miracle. Guardiola at some point may even play both in unison, aided and abetted by Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling.
Standing with giants
Liverpool again need to stand tall in defence, as per the 2nd half of last week’s game. The front 3 of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and hopefully Mo Salah are a threat to any side in the world. The danger for City is that Liverpool will at some point add an away goal and push the tie beyond a side like City and their seasoned internationals.
At the back, Virgil van Dijk continues to answer the question on why Liverpool paid so much for him. The Reds look a much better side defensively since his arrival. Loris Karius has shaken early criticism off to establish himself as Jurgen Klopp’s first choice number 1 and Andrew Robertson has proven himself to be one of the buys of the season.
Jordan Henderson will be missing, suspended after his yellow card last week. Gini Wijnaldum is likely to keep his place after a good, solid performance in the derby against Everton on Saturday.
Cool heads needed
Both camps are giving out the right signals. City say the tie is not yet beyond them and despite that bad few days, confidence still exudes from The Etihad. Liverpool, cheered on by around 2,750 supporters, say there is still a job to be done tonight and the tie is indeed not over. An early City goal may make the Reds nervous.
Fingers crossed, after last week’s ‘coach welcome’ shenanigans, tonight’s game goes off without any trouble. Both clubs and the police have spoken well about the minority of idiots that spoiled a wonderful atmosphere down at Anfield and with tightened security, hopes are high of a calm night off the pitch.
So, who will progress? Hand on heart I just can’t see Liverpool not scoring tonight and that would mean City replying with at least 5 goals of their own. Yes, I’m aware they (City) are a superb side and yes, I’m aware that City knocked 5 past the Reds earlier in the season, albeit after Mane was sent off. However, this is a different Liverpool at the moment, a different animal to any previous collapses. Liverpool to score on the night, lose the game but progress on aggregate.
The ‘reward’ for the winners is a possible semi-final against Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid, depending on how the 2nd legs go of course. Now we are at last talking about eating at the top table of European royalty.