Manchester City 1 – Liverpool 2 (Aggregate 1 – 5): Match Review & Analysis

What an odd six days it’s been. The first-leg was such a triumph, such a joy that many supporters didn’t really know how to react. I’m not sure anyone expected us to not only win the match but to stop Manchester City from even registering a shot on target. It was euphoric, a true moment to remember. Then there was the Merseyside derby, with Liverpool playing a mixed team that was made up half of players who are in no sort of form or rhythm and half of lads knackered from their monumental effort against the Cityzens. Thankfully, perhaps because of a lack of respect for the man in the dugout, Everton decided to allow us to play it out like a training match. Sam Allardyce’s side couldn’t even muster the willingness to pick up a booking, such was the extent to which it was close to being a nothing game. The complete opposite of the Manchester derby, in which it looked like City were cruising to an easy win before United got back into the match and it started to all kick-off. Liverpool, surely, could take heart from the defending by the hosts.

Derby weekend out of the way, all thoughts turned swiftly to this match. For some Liverpool supporters there was a sense that nerves might have been less frayed had the match finished 0-0. There’s no question that Jürgen Klopp would have snatched your hands off for a 3-0 win before a ball was kicked in the first-leg. We all knew that City had to come and attack us and that Liverpool are a good counter-attacking side, but we also knew that Pep Guardiola’s team could score goals for fun. They could’ve been 5-0 up by the end of their first-half against their city rivals. It wasn’t long after the final whistle against Everton that we all started second-guessing ourselves, convincing ourselves and each other that we could easily get knocked out tonight and that it would be shameful given the position of strength we were in at the end of the first-leg. Nerves were all over the place, for me at least. We’ve got the European pedigree, but as Klopp said in his pre-match press conference, does the life our grandfathers led make our lives any easier? He said that his players had to go out and make their own history. The question is, could we do it?

Pep Went Balls Out

The Manchester City coach is one of the best managers in world football. He knew heading into this game that he needed to produce something truly spectacular to make it through to the next round. He probably thought that Liverpool would score, meaning that his team would need to score at least five in order to qualify for the semi-finals. When he announced his starting line-up, in which he appeared to have selected four defensive players and seven attacking ones, it was clear that he wasn’t going to end the day wondering ‘what if’. He went for the most attacking team he could possibly field, with the exception of leaving Sergio Agüero on the bench in case he needed someone to change the game.

It was a strategy that paid off immediately in the first few minutes of the game, with Virgil van Dijk wanting a free-kick for an innocuous touch on him and then City cutting us open in moments. They continued to push and probe, moving the defence around and being extremely unlucky on more than a few occasions. The Bernado Silva shot that Dejan Lovren glanced onto the post was one of the most obvious moments, but the Sané disallowed goal when the ball came off James Milner will surely have their fans screaming from the rooftops. Guardiola’s choice of formation put us under extreme pressure and we were begging for half-time so that the manager could get his message across to the team. The Spaniard might have opted for a more sensible line-up, but losing 2-1 isn’t any different to losing 4-1 or 4-2 in terms of whether your team progresses.

The Second-Half Is Why Klopp Wants Us To Play

In the wake of our 3-0 win in the first-leg, Jürgen Klopp said that he was annoyed that we sat back and didn’t play enough football in the second-half. Little wonder, considering that we had to repel wave after wave of Manchester City attack during the final forty-five minutes at Anfield and could barely get out. He’d have been annoyed, therefore, that we seemed to pick up at the beginning of this game how we ended that one. A lot of that is down to Guardiola’s tactics, of course, with the Reds not knowing how to cope with it. The front lads could keep the ball and the midfield had no idea whether to stick or twist. If they pushed forward they’d have left the defence exposed to City’s front seven, whilst by staying deep they invited on the pressure.

It was obvious from the start of the second-half that Klopp had asked his players to be braver, to take the game to the hosts a little bit more. We looked far more composed on the ball, with Gini Wijnaldum really coming into the game more. He did a good job of breaking things up in the first period but, like the rest of the Liverpool team, he barely had time to get on the ball let alone do anything with it. As soon he did during the second-half the whole match changed. It was an excellent turn and pass from him that set us moving forward for the opening goal and it was a goal that killed the game stone dead. It’s why the manager was so insistence after the first game that we really needed to play football rather than sitting back and inviting pressure. He got his wish, meaning that we all got ours.

The Ref Was A Joke

Just one quick mention for the referee, who was absolutely woeful. He was dishing yellow cards out throughout the first-half as though he was working to a quota, desperate to book anyone who even so much as went close to a player who hit the deck. I say that looking at it from the point of view of both teams, too. Manchester City are entitled to feel aggrieved for some of the decisions that went against them, with the Sané disallowed goal that I mentioned before being the primary example. I have full sympathy with the City supporters and I think if we’re all being honest that we’d have been fuming if the same decisions went against us.

They didn’t, of course, but I do think that it’s hypocritical to only criticise referees when they give things against you. Personally I don’t think it was a foul on van Dijk that led to the first goal and there have been a couple of times recently when he’s pulled up after being nicked behind him. He’s been an incredible signing and the defence looks significantly better with him in, but he needs to play to the whistle. You could see players on both teams getting frustrated with the referee and it was easy to understand why. It amazes me that he’s considered good enough to officiate in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and it says an awful lot about the officials in this country that he’s referred to as having an ‘English style’. From our own point of view, we need to learn not to look for fouls from referees who aren’t ever going to give them.

So Many Maligned Players Have Been Vindicated

Let’s make no mistake, there are vast swathes of the Liverpool fanbase who think that many of our players ‘aren’t good enough’. Obviously Mohamed Salah and the rest of the front three, as well as Virgil van Dijk, all tend to avoid criticism and their performances vindicate that. Yet you can pick pretty much any other player in the squad and they’ve received plenty of criticism from more than just a vocal few. Some supporters celebrated Jordan Henderson being suspended for this match, for example, but you’d have to be an idiot not to see how much he adds to the midfield. Gini Wijnaldum can’t play away from home, yet he bossed the midfield as soon as the team as a whole got back on the ball. Trent Alexander-Arnold is ‘too inexperienced’, but he bossed Leroy Sané for one-hundred and eighty minutes.

Then, of course, there’s Dejan Lovren. One of the most poorly treated players in the entire squad, perhaps only behind the captain. You would think that he could barely kick a ball listening to the way that some people talk about him, yet he was absolutely immense tonight. He got the vital touch on the Bernado Silva shot, he got block after block in when City came at us and he was the player most regularly making clearances for us. There’s no doubt that van Dijk has changed the overall feel of the defence, but for me the Croatian made the difference tonight whilst the Dutchman had maybe his poorest game for us. Plenty of Liverpool supporters out there need to give the former Southampton defender far, far more credit. Yes, he has his moments, but it’s an absolute nonsense to suggest that he’s ‘dreadful’ or that he’s responsible every time we concede a goal. It’s for all of these maligned players that I desperately hope we win the competition.

On To The Semi-Finals

And so this great European adventure rumbles on. Make no mistake, we’re far from in the final. There will be two tough games to play whoever it is that we’re drawn against. The likelihood is that we’ll have to play Real Madrid if we want to win the thing, so I’d rather face them over two legs than one. That said, if them and Bayern Munich faced each other then you wouldn’t hear me complaining. Whatever happens from here, this is a Liverpool side that deserves a huge amount of credit and it genuinely feels that it’s just the start under this manager. What a man he is.

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