Sanjay Nair examines the massive Champions League tie taking place at Anfield this evening between Liverpool and Manchester City.
The dust has long cleared since the draw for the quarterfinals of this season’s Champions League and against the wishes of fans from both sides, Liverpool and Manchester City have been drawn against each other.
Whilst this is a tie that both teams could do without, it is time to ponder on a few points that might turn the tie either way.
Pedigree in Europe
Manchester City – No European Cup / Champions League (Lone semifinal appearance in 2016); No UEFA Cup / Europa League; 1 Cup Winners’ Cup (38 years ago).
Liverpool – 5 European Cups / Champions League; 3 UEFA Cup / Europa League; 3 European Super Cups
In terms of pedigree in Europe, there simply is no comparison. In terms of history in England, there is no comparison. Liverpool are miles ahead of Manchester City on both counts.
It is only in the last 10 years, with the purchase of the club by Abu Dhabi United Group, that Man City have established themselves as a powerhouse in England thanks in large to the seemingly unlimited budget that is at their disposal.
To add to the talent now at their disposal, they also have one of the finest managers in Europe in Pep Guardiola. But that may count to little else as Europe is often a completely different proposition when compared to domestic challenges.
Manchester City have been found wanting on numerous occasions in the recent past despite having quality players at their disposal. Liverpool, on the other hand, always seem to rise to the occasion in Europe and with the gap in quality considerably reduced, it is safe to say we are adequately equipped to tackle everything thrown at us.
Effect of Liverpool’s famous European nights at Anfield
Another area where Liverpool have a huge advantage is that of the atmosphere inside the stadium. The Anfield faithful know more than just a thing or two about European nights and are famous for the raucous atmosphere they create on such occasions.
Visiting players and even fans very often comment and to a great extent marvel at the ‘Anfield Experience’ for European matches, which is unmatched elsewhere. Irrespective of the quality of the opposition or the current form of their team, The Kop always give it their absolute best when trying to galvanise their team.
Man City players and fans alike can expect a lot more of the same when they visit Anfield this evening and if reports are to be believed, they are already fairly intimidated by the thought. No matter what the occasion, whether forced or not, it is unlikely that the return leg will see a similar atmosphere.
Battle of the Managers
Pep Guardiola is one of the most revered managers in world football and his track record in Champions League football can perhaps be considered a marginal advantage that Man City have over Liverpool. Even though the two managers are tied at the head-to-head record, a Champions League final only once in his career is all that Jürgen Klopp has to show.
However, even though very successful at Barcelona where he won everything more than once, Champions League success eluded Guardiola at Bayern despite having a team which was a better one than the present-day Man City. Even at Barcelona and more evidently at Bayern, he struggled at times to break down teams that stifled his free-flowing style of play.
In this regard, teams playing under Pep and Klopp are not very different from each other. Hence the final outcome of this tie will boil down to which team is able to stifle the other.
Attacking threat vs Defensive instability
Perhaps the most awaited battle in the quarterfinal this year will be between the trio of Sané-Silva-Aguero/Jesus and the Fab-3 of Mané-Firmino-Salah. Liverpool have been luckier on the fitness front and do possess the greater threat collectively, especially at home.
In their own way, all three have been irrepressible and one can hope they will continue their fine form leading up to both ties. As mouth-watering as this will be, Man City also have De Bruyne pulling the strings behind the front three. While this would seem to put them slightly ahead, Liverpool’s midfield had been successful in cutting off supply to Man City’s attacking trio for a majority of the league fixture at Anfield this season.
The defence on both sides can be vulnerable at crucial junctures and it will be a case of who makes the least mistakes. Liverpool’s is a widely accepted failing, despite the increasing number of clean sheets. For all the money spent by Pep, the same can be said of the City defenders too at times.
After all, they did concede 4 goals at Anfield. Hopefully, Van Dijk will inspire whoever turns up alongside him at the back to achieve the required levels of stability with minimum fuss, as away goals could play an important part in this tie, given the explosive nature of both attacks.
Injuries to key players
With both teams being engaged in their respective derbies in between the two legs, players and managers from both sets will be anxious to avoid injuries of any sort. The Merseyside derby is an unusually feisty one no matter what is at stake for either team and it will be interesting to see if Klopp will rest some of his key players, depending on the outcome of the 1st leg.
Likewise, Pep and his boys can expect no favours during the visit of Manchester United, more so if they will have the title sewn up mathematically by then. Prior to that, there is the always unwelcome international break from which a number of players return with niggles, knocks and in worst case scenario, season-ending injuries.
All in all, as said at the beginning, irrespective of their domestic form & league position this tie promises to be an absolute blockbuster on paper with high expectations of goals galore and one can only hope it lives up to that billing on the field too. Of course, a Liverpool victory over two legs is what we are all hoping for and it is definitely achievable.