Manchester City vs Liverpool: Champions League second leg preview
What a nightmare week Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp have given their bitter rival Pep Guardiola. A near-perfect season is metamorphosing into a spectacular failure in the blink of an eye.
Liverpool pushed City's high press right back in Guardiola's face, on the way to a 3-0 first-half lead. City can consider themselves lucky the Reds were content to hold their advantage until the final whistle.
Chris Smalling, Alexis Sanchez, and Paul Pogba eclipsed the Blue Moon at the Etihad. City had all but wrapped up the fastest-ever Premier league title with two goals in the first half of the Manchester Derby. Three misses by Raheem Sterling proved more crucial. Even with Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Kyle Walker, and Kevin de Bruyne rested, City should have been up five after 45. The reversal was only just desserts for failing to take the chances a champion must.
In the first leg, Jurgen Klopp's side played perfectly. So many facets combined. For starters, praise Liverpool's young, ferocious fullbacks, especially Trent Alexander-Arnold, who shut down Leroy Sane. Up front, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino somehow outnumbered Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi. As they Gengenpressed to their hearts' content, Mo Salah cleaned up the scraps.
Everyone played a part. Mane got his seventh Champions League goal. James Milner gave a rock-solid performance. His experience both with and against City paid dividends. Even Dominic Solanke caused havoc to City's not-so-defensive backline. At the other end, Virgil van Dijk continued to establish his presence, but Dejan Lovren was stellar.
Guardiola, usually a one-trick pony, changed tactics at the worst possible time in the worst possible way. Aymeric Laporte and Ilkay Gundogan took the places of Danilo and Raheem Sterling. Against his fastest opponents, Pep put out his slowest XI, hoping to change the tempo. Liverpool simply said, "Thank you very much."
There is one factor City will not need worry over: the atmosphere at Anfield. Oh boy, the fans savoured their Champions League quarter-final in a decade. They chanted throughout. The Sky Blues couldn't find any space against the Reds because the gaps filled with a wall of sound. What will worry is whether City faithful can replicate that passion. They were singing when their side went ahead against United, but not before that or after the Red Devils stormed back. Fans love to say this about players but that simply isn't good enough.
One thing is crystal clear, the Citizens have everything to lose. With this scoreline, it's typically the other way around, and maybe Pep will try to sell his squad on that. He'd be better advised calling on their pride, though.
Four-nil is a conceivable score in this one. It would even allow City's Barcelona exiles to thumb their noses at their old club, who did much the same over Paris-Saint-Germain. Of course, it was a wider margin, but City face a close league rival that they've already embarrassed once. This will be the more difficult comeback. Pep still can turn things around but it will require everything in his bag of tricks. And shouldn't a great champion have to give everything he has?