Since the draw happened this is the night Liverpool fans have been waiting for. And we have been waiting for this night for a long time. It really doesn’t matter who the opponent is but it does make it a little juicy that it’s Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side. Juicy for Liverpool fans, juicy for Manchester City fans and juicy for neutrals all over the world because if you can expect one thing over the next 180 minutes it is there will be some fireworks between the two teams.
The last time these team played it was at Anfield the scene of tomorrow’s first leg. It was one of the best games, most exciting, and most talked about games of the season. The game when Liverpool stopped City’s unbeaten run by beating them 4-3 on a Sunday afternoon that literally brought Anfield to life.
The goals on that day were scored by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who opened the scoring sneaking a shot by City keeper Ederson in the 9th minute. City got an equalizer in the 40th minute by taking advantage of a misjudged ball by Joe Gomez to sneak a ball near post by Liverpool keeper Lloris Karius, probably a save Karius would make now, he’s improved a lot since. Liverpool got their lead back in the 59th minute with a beauty by Robert Firmino, they got a third with a Sadio Mane goal in the 61st, and it was absolute bedlam at Anfield in the 68th minute when Mo Salah caught Ederson off his line and chipped him from 40 yards out to give the Reds a 4-1 lead.
City wouldn’t go down without a fight with goals by Bernardo Silva in the 84th minute and Ilkay Gundogan in the 91st minute. The final whistle would blow without anymore harm as Liverpool held on to win 4-3 giving their fans one of the most fun wins in years.
There is no doubt that TAA has bright future and has opened a lot of eyes with his performance over the season, but there have been the expected youthful errors that have let him and the Liverpool defense down lately, especially when teams play long against them as Crystal Palace and Manchester United did. I’m not going to pull punches here but he was a bit of a nightmare dealing with the runners running off of the target men.
So, naturally after watching those two games you’re going to be a bit nervous about him. The one good thing is that City won’t play that type of football, they will play out of the back and they will die on that hill before they would do anything differently so that should help some, but he will still be matched up against Leroy Sane, one of the best young talents in this game.
There is no doubt he’s going to need help so it is important how Jurgen Klopp lines up his midfield in this game. If I know Klopp and I think I do I think he will play James Milner in midfield and have him play on the same side as TAA in order to add some protection for him.
Milner has come up bigger and played his best games in the biggest of matches.
3. The rest of the lineup
Most of this lineup is no secret, we know the back 4 is going to be TAA, Lovren, van Dijk, and Robertson. We also know the front 3 will be Salah, Firmino, and Mane, but the question is what will be midfield 3 be.
Well, I already said Milner will be in there and I think with his performance against City last time Oxlade-Chamberlain will be in there as well, so who gets the holding role? Emre Can or Jordan Henderson. This is a tough one and there is no easy answer. But with Can being a question mark I think that Henderson will get the nod. Henderson frustrates me and I think this position is the biggest need to upgrade in the future but for this one we are likely riding with the captain so let’s hope he’s at his best and if he is he is more than adequate to get the job done. I think the pace and the tempo of this will be fast and furious and I tend to trust Henderson a little more in this type of game.
One of the key battles in this will be the full backs. Both of these sides fullbacks like to get up the pitch and be wide options for their respective attacks.
For Liverpool Andrew Robertson has been a vital apart of the Liverpool attack since he earned the starting job and it’s no secret that Alexander-Arnold likes to get up the pitch to get involved with the attack. It will be interesting to see how involved TAA looks to get knowing he has to deal with Sane, he may decide to play it safe, but that could depend on who is dictating the play.
City on the other hand will have Kyle Walker who is as good as anyone getting up the pitch using his ridiculous speed on one side, but on the other side is a bit of a question mark. Fabian Delph would be first choice but he’s a question mark, so if he can’t go it will likely be Danilo who isn’t as dangerous as Walker is, but is probably the best option. He played Aymeric Laporte at that spot on Saturday against Everyone but that may have been to rest him in case he’s needed for Liverpool.
One of the biggest deciding factors in this may be which teams fullbacks are able to pin the other sides fullbacks deep in their own end.
Dictating the terms of play
I don’t think this one is a secret. I expect Livepool to drop off a bit and look to attack City on the counter where they believe they can exploit weaknesses in the back.
Don’t expect City to change things up just because of the last meeting. Like I mentioned earlier Pep is not going to change what has made his team successful just because of one bad game.
So, it’s going to be obvious its going to be pretty simple. Liverpool is going to look to use their strength on the counter to hit City as often as they can, they will sit back but they will be aggresive and look to jump City any chance they can. This is why Liverpool is a difficult match up for City and they have a realistic shot at doing this and getting by City.
City on the other hand is going to look to work the ball out of the back and try to find mismatches all over the pitch, create numbers, and try to get Liverpool’s defenders out of position and try to attack them that way.
We know what City’s midfield will bring. There could be a question of who they play. We know Fernandinho and De Bryune will be in there but who will join them. Either option is creative in David Silva or Gundogan, and either choice is terrifying for Liverpool. Or they could play both at the expense of Raheem Sterling but Sterling has been too damn good and taking his speed out will probably benefit Liverpool I would have Sterling out there to try to occupy Robertson to keep him from getting up the pitch.
But Liverpool’s midfield may decide who can win the game. If Liverpool’s midfield can help their back 4 defensively, create turnovers, and get on the counter attack they can force City’s hand and have loads of success. But we know how inconsistent this midfield has been, they were great in the 4-3 win, if they can replicate that they will be in good shape but with this midfield, it’s much easier said than done.
Liverpool’s front 3
So, how does Pep expect to slow down the trio of Salah, Mane, and Firmino.
It won’t be with his defense, he knows his defense is vulnerable and if this Liverpool trio gets at them they’re going to be in some trouble.
He’s going to do this with the attack, he is going to hope that they’re at their clinical best with their possession. Working the ball all over the pitch and dictate the terms when Liverpool gets the ball and hope that they can keep them from counteting with speed which is when the big 3 is at their best.
The biggest injury in this will be the absence of Sergio Aguero who Pep Guardiola said on Wednesday that he is definitely out. Now this is not a knock on Gabriel Jesus, he’s an excellent talent and is more than adequate in getting the job done but Aguero is an absolute savage and he’s a stone cold killer, he’s the type of lad who will turn this type of tie on his head with his individual brilliance so his absence will be a huge blessing for Liverpool.
The other injuries for this one go as follows. Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan are both out which leaves Liverpool no backups at Center Back for this. So cross your fingers an injury doesn’t happen or Emre Can will be coming off the bench to be center back against Man City if he’s healthy. Times like these are when Lucas came in handy. Also out for Liverpool is obviously Adam Lallana and as I said earlier Emre Can is a question mark.
For City besides Aguero, John Stones is a question mark which would be a huge loss and as I mentioned earlier Fabian Delph is a question mark.
Most of the key players will be here for the first leg besides Aguero so this should be an absolute beauty.
Im not going to lie I’m going with my heart here but I think Klopp will find a way to get his team on the counter attack and get his front 3 against this City defense and they will outscore City in what I think will be a bit of a shootout. Liverpool wins but will this be enough of a lead heading to City for the second leg.