Following an enticing last sixteen draw in the Champions League, English pundits and football fans speculated that the Premier League will see ‘four or five teams in the quarters’. Eventually, only two made it through, and in typical fashion, drew each other – Manchester City and Liverpool.
Billed by many as the two most exciting teams in the country, Guardiola v Klopp has resulted in two very entertaining games (for the neutral) this season, with a 5-0 City win being the result in September, followed by a 4-3 Liverpool victory in January.
The two games surely won’t be as gripping to watch in terms of end-to-end open attacking football, but they promise to be an intense spectacle that fans from around the globe will eagerly tune in to watch.
Let’s have a look inside the opposition…
News broke on Tuesday morning that defender Joel Matip will miss the rest of the season due to a thigh injury. Midfielder Emre Can, who has been linked with City amongst other European giants, is also losing a fitness battle and is expected to miss the first leg. Along with these, English duo Adam Lallana and Joe Gomez are also set to miss the game tomorrow through injury.
The injuries mean that Jurgen Klopp will have limited options to choose from – this means Dejan Lovren, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum are all likely to feature.
Ex-City goalkeeper Loris Karius has been the favourite in Liverpool’s goal in 2018, and despite a couple of mistakes early in the year, the German has enjoyed a positive run of form.
The midfield is where the battle is normally won and lost in Champions League knockout ties – if I was a Liverpool fan, this would be my biggest worry. Injuries and the sale of Phil Coutinho may cost Liverpool in bigger games in the remainder of the season, which is why they have already captured the signature of Naby Keita and will look to strengthen further in the summer.
Another debatable area of the pitch for the Reds’ is at right back. Trent Alexander Arnold has been excellent going forward this season, but has sometimes lacked experience defensively. With Leroy Sané extremely likely to start on the left for City, Klopp may put his trust in the more experienced Nathaniel Clyne, however there are doubts over his fitness.
It could’ve been Salah against whoever Pep opts for at left-back for City, or Jesus/Agüero up against Lovren, but the key battle that I think can win this match for City is Sané v Alexander-Arnold.
The German is on the form of his life, whereas the young full back is possibly the weakest link in a decent Liverpool side.
In the 4-3 defeat in January, City were without David Silva, who I would argue has been City’s best player in 2018. When Silva plays, Sané almost always plays better – the understanding between the two is magical at times – this can only work in City’s favour.
If you go to Youtube and search for a Sané best bits compilation, 70% of the clips are in big games. Leroy Sané is a big game player if there ever was one – he could win us the game at Anfield.
ASK THE OPPOSITION
To get an opinion from the other side, I spoke to John Gibbons from Liverpool website and leading podcast The Anfield Wrap, as well as Matt Thielen who runs news site LFC Transfer Room. I asked them about all things Liverpool – from the games in general, to their takes on the De Bruyne v Salah for player of the year debate.
Original thoughts on the draw
John: Manchester City were the last team I wanted, and I think that was the case for a lot of Liverpool fans. In my opinion they are the best team in the competition and, having been out of the competition for so long, it is a bit annoying to get another English team. I’m sure we all fancied somewhere warmer! But there are pros and cons to playing a team from the same division. The element of surprise won’t be there, but at the same time this side isn’t that experienced in Europe, so maybe a Premier League team, rather than a side who are used to getting to semi finals and finals in this competition, isn’t such a bad thing either. We shall see.
Matt: When I saw the outcome of the draw I was worried to say the least. I wanted the Club to avoid City and was hoping for a redemption draw with Sevilla. With the amazing run that you are on this season I put City in the same bracket as Barca and Madrid in terms of teams I wanted to avoid. The first thing that popped into my mind was the almost catastrophic meltdown in Liverpool’s 4-3 victory in January. But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I’m surprisingly pleased with the draw. We all know that City don’t park the bus and that is good news for Liverpool and I’m hoping that the addition of Virgil van Dijk will help Liverpool’s backline enough to slow down City’s seemingly unstoppable attack.
Salah or De Bruyne?
John: Given Manchester City have been so dominant in the league this season, it seems a bit daft to not give it to a City player. So if you want to tell me De Bruyne has been your best player this season, then that’s fine with me. He’s certainly been very impressive whenever I have seen him.
Matt: I am a bit biased here, but I have to go with Salah. This is a really tough question and both players are deserving of the award and there are strong arguments for each, but I believe that Salah has a slight edge over De Bruyne, especially if he breaks the single season goal record. The way that Salah has managed to make the supporters forget about Coutinho so quickly is truly amazing. I was leaning towards De Bruyne almost all season because of City’s incredible title run but Salah’s 4 goal performance against Watford changed my mind. Having said that, I would not be surprised to see the Belgian take home the award.
How will the games go – similar to the league or more cagey?
John: We don’t really do cagey to be honest. I think Liverpool will see their best chance of going through being taking a 2+ goal lead to the Etihad and Manchester City will want an away goal so I can see the Anfield tie at least being a cracker. How the second leg goes will largely depend on the first.
Matt: With Virgil van Dijk’s arrival and immediate impact in the Liverpool squad I don’t think that we will see another heavily one-sided performance like that 5-0 beatdown back in September. However, I do believe that 3-2 or even another 4-3 would not be out of the question. As I said mentioned before both teams play very open, attacking football that will lead to plenty of opportunities for each team to score and do so in bunches. I believe that both matches will result in no more than a 2-goal victory for either side and that away goals will be the deciding factor in who moves on to the semi-finals.
Thoughts on City’s season from a Liverpool perspective
John: Relentless is the word I’d use to describe it. We’ve obviously seen a few very good sides in the Premier League era, but nothing quite like this one for battering everyone into submission. If they can stay motivated to the end I expect them to break all the goalscoring and points records. The funny thing is Manchester United could finish the season in the mid 80s points wise, enough to win the league some years, yet still lose the league title to a record amount between 2nd and 1st. Which sums it all up really.
Matt: City’s season has been nothing short of amazing. I can honestly say that I have never witnessed anything like it in sports. Pep has City playing beautiful football in league that has more parked buses than the M6. The point differential between 1st and 2nd is impressive, but I believe that way that they have done it is even more impressive. After 18 consecutive wins I began to believe that they wouldn’t lose another.
Leroy Sané is by far the player that I am most worried about. I am a huge fan of Trent Alexander-Arnold, but he has shown at times that he is still a young defender with lots to learn. Sané is one of the deadliest wingers in the league and is not afraid of taking on defenders with his blistering pace and could sneak past the young defender with his runs behind the backline. The right sided defenders in Liverpool’s backline are a definite weak spot and Pep Guardiola could look to exploit this via Sané.
What factors will swing the tie and predictions
John: I’m very much enjoying everyone in the blue half of Manchester deciding the atmosphere at Anfield won’t be a factor. Our record against you guys at Anfield is already very good and the crowd are going to be even more up for this one as they have been in the past. How the Manchester City players deal with the atmosphere is a massive factor, as is Liverpool managing to score when we are on top. If we can take a lead to the Etihad I’ll fancy us to go through given our ability to hit teams on the break. But if City get a score draw, or better, at Anfield it will be really tough for us. It’s the tie of the round, anyway. And its been a while since we’ve been in those.
Matt: The location of the 2nd leg. The 2nd leg being at the Etihad is huge for City. After the first match City can regroup and be confident that they are playing at home whereas Liverpool will be worried no matter what the outcome of the outcome at Anfield is. My prediction is that Liverpool go through on goal differential after scores of 4-2 at Anfield and 3-2 at the Etihad.