We did it!
We knew it wasn’t going to be easy we knew that we were going to have to weather a storm but we also knew that if we got the road goal we would get the job done.
Liverpool withstood an early Manchester City goal from Gabriel Jesus in the second minute, dodged some bullets, especially when Leroy Sane was ruled offsides when he appeared to score a second for City and also dodged a bullet when Bernardo Silva hit the post off of a deflection off of Dejan Lovren’s head.
Liverpool went into the half wobbling like they were doing the walk of shame home after a long night partying, but responded with the type of resillence in the second half that we’ve come to love from this team and got second half goals from Mo Salah and Robert Firmino to give the Reds a 2-1 win at the Ethiad and a 5-2 aggregate win to advance to the semifinals of the Champions League.
Now my breakdown of one of the biggest nights for Liverpool in a long time.
1. Bad start
We all knew City was going to be throwing everything they had at the Reds in the build up to this. City was down 3-0 coming in. They had to win the second leg 3-0 just to force extra time and win 4-0 to advance. If Livepool scored a goal City would need a 4 goal win to advance.
No doubt the odds were long against City but if any team could do this it was this City side.
When the lineups were announced it was obvious what City was going to do. I mean we knew what they were going to do beforehand, we knew it would be attack, attack, and more attack and hope that the relentlessness of the attack would pin Liverpool back so they would never be able to muster any type of counter, but when the lineups came out and you saw City lining up with 3 in the back and with the back 3 of Otamendi, Laporte, and Walker it felt like Pep was going at it more aggresively than any of us thought they would. It seemed to me that it was going to almost be a back 2 at times as Walker would look to get forward. No doubt Fernandinho would sit in front of the them and protect but even he would be looking to get forward. Without a doubt they were throwing the entire kitchen at Liverpool so Liverpool would be doing everything they could to hold on.
After Jesus got the opener less than 2 minutes into it I will admit the confidence I had going into the game was gone. I went from a nervous confidence to feeling like I was about to watch a slow death happen.
Look back at the goal. Sure you could say it was a foul on Raheem Sterling, but it was our 75 million defender Virgil van Dijk who made the worst error he has made since joining Liverpool when he turned the ball over leading to the break that City would convert into the opener. It was the type of mistake you would expect from Lovren or Matip but not van Dijk.
Usually van Dijk gives me a calmness and confidence about him but when he made a mistake like that this early into this it give me a real uneasy feeling.
I said in my short preview for this that Liverpool needed to find some happy medium between the first half of the first leg and the second half. There was no doubt City would be coming with everything so Liverpool had to be patient and weather the storm but had to be aggresive when opportunity presented itself. It’s a fine balance they didn’t want to sit back too much but they had to be careful when going forward, they didn’t want to leave themselves exposed.
I thought Liverpool sat back too much in the first half, sure some of it was because of City’s pressure and they were backed up in a position it was difficult to get out of.
I also thought the first goal scared them a little bit and it forced them back a little more. The only real chance they had was late in the half when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mo Salah connected for a nice give and go. Oxlade-Chamberlain was able to get through, he did a nice job dancing around Ederson but had a poor angle and wasn’t able to get his shot on target. Had he used his left foot he may have had a better chance at scoring.
It was obvious things needed to change at half. Within a minute Bernardo Silva hit the post and Leroy Sane was wrongfully ruled offsides which would have changed everything heading into the half.
There was no doubt that Liverpool needed to change things up in the second half if they were going to get through this alive. They were going to have to get on the ball more look to relieve themselves from some of the pressure if they were going to get though this.
Everyone that watched this knew at the half it was probably the worst possible performance from Liverpool and it took some serious luck to get to the half only 1 down. But the positive of it was that they were only down 1-0 so, City still needed two but if the Reds would get one it changed everything and they would be pretty safe to get through.
But no doubt they can learn from this if they get in this position again I think they know they have to approach things a little differently.
2. Front 3
All season there has been no doubt who the stars of this team are. They are Mo Salah, Robert Firmino, and Sadio Mane.
So, you had to know if the result that was needed would come these 3 would have a big hand in the outcome.
With the way the first half went you had to know that a goal was needed it really seemed improbable at that point that we were going to hold them under 3 so a goal was necessary and if it was coming it was going to come from this trio.
They started to second half better than the first half as soon as the second half kickoff came. Obviously Jurgen Klopp made some adjustments and had some choice words to say to loosen the Reds up a little but they definitely looked to get on the front foot much more than they were in the first half.
The way City was throwing bodies forward the opportunity was definitely there for the Reds to get forward and there was space to take advantage of if they could get some calmness on the ball and complete the first pass out of the back.
The first goal was beautiful work by Gini Wijnaldum doing a nice little turn to create some space. He found Oxlade-Chamberlain, who then played a beautiful ball through to Salah who played Mane through. Mane got one on one with Ederson was maybe tripped up from behind and maybe tripped up by Ederson, but it wouldn’t matter as Salah was Johnny on the spot, he got the needed road goal to basically put Liverpool through in the 56th minute.
Firmino would score a second for Liverpool in the 78th minute. It was a typical Firmino goal, it came off his hard work forcing a turnover off of Otamendi and going in all alone to give the Reds the winner and it was complete ectasy in the away end.
These 3 are absolute match winners they’ve been terrific all season long and were terrific again today. It’s almost impossible to hold them down.
There was no doubt a fear that Salah may not play in the second leg after he went out of the first leg with a minor injury and sat out against Everton over the weekend.
There was a bit more confidence yesterday when the reports came out that he made it through training fine and when his name made the team sheet it was a great feeling knowing our guy would be there, our guy that has done so much this season and gave us so many memories in his incredible season.
The first half he like everyone had low involvement as there was no attack to speak of. But one thing that is great with Salah and one area he doesn’t get much credit is his willingness to work back unselfishly to supply support defensively, which he did today. Firmino gets all kinds of credit for this and rightfully so but Salah doesn’t get as much. Probably because he has 39 goals in all comps but it’s still important to the team that he is willing to work back like this.
Really all 3 of them do. Even Mane as well. Look back to the first goal from the first leg. It was Mane who intercepted the Sane errant pass, got the ball to Milner, who then fed Salah, who fed Firmino, and the rest was history and this tie was off and running for the Reds.
As I said Firmino got the second but his work in this game was immense. We all know Firmino has one of the best work ethics for any #9 on the planet and no moment was a better reminder of that when in the second half when Kevin De Bryune was busting through the middle, it was Firmino who busted back as hard as he could and executed a perfect tackle from behind to stop the break. This was a critical play from Firmino and showed how unselfish and incredible he can be.
It was a risky play as Firmino had to execute it perfectly as he was on a yellow and this play was really a perfect image of his value in this game.
Sadio Mane has kind of been the forgotten man this season. He was out injured for a while and there was a perception that he wasn’t playing well. Which isn’t true but people can be simpletons and only focus on certain things. The thing is his numbers are as good as they were last season, but he’s been overshadowed by Salah’s historic season. He’s also been asked to play a bit of a different role this season because of Salah.
Today was a perfect example of this. I don’t expect people to be giving him a ton of credit for his performance but he was awesome in this game, especially in the second half. It was his run through that set up Salah’s opener but the entire half Mane was working back defensively and getting in space regularly in the second half to help relieve some of the Manchester City pressure.
No doubt the big 3 will be getting a ton of credit for this performance as they should.
No doubt the defense for what seems like eternity has been the portion of this team that has been trashed time and time again, this goes back to the Brednan Rodgers era.
A lot of the flack given to the defense has been fair, no doubt, but there is also no doubt that the improvement of the defense has been a huge part of this teams success this season and it hasn’t been showcased more than against City in the Champions League quarterfinals.
I wrote last week after the first leg about the defense. I rant and raved after the first leg how great Trent Alexander-Arnold was. He was the Man of the Match to me in the first leg. But also Andrew Robertson, Dejan Lovren, and Virgil van Dijk were huge.
Quickly back to the first leg it was a superb defensive effort that was the key to victory, the defense was the key to getting the attack going to get the Reds the 3-0 lead and it was the defense that shut City down in the second half when they pushed hard for that huge road goal they needed so badly before heading home for the second leg. If you don’t remember or was in a coma for the first leg they didn’t allow a shot on target the entire first leg.
There is no doubt that the signing of Virgil van Dijk has meant everything to this team and is the single reason for this team going from a mistake prone bad team defensively to a very solid and dare I say great defensive team.
It’s just not his performance on the pitch which has been flawless since joining the Reds in the January transfer window. Which is why it was shocking when it was his turnover that led to the City goal in the second minute. Since he’s been here he just didn’t make those mistakes so it was a shock to the system and it made me feel like if he was making nervous mistakes then we’re in trouble, he’s the calming force of this team and if he’s making mistakes because of this relentless City pressure then we could be in a lot of trouble.
But from that point forward van Dijk was flawless and he encompassed the resillent nature of this team which is a big reason they’re in the Champions league semifinals.
With van Dijk it’s so much more. He is calm he helps everyone else around him to stay calm and do their job. He’s a leader who is always keeping people focused and with that leadership you can see how good he is at organizing things in the back. You always see him barking out instructions, making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be and he’s also regularly barking out orders where to play the next ball to. He’s a natural leader, something this squad hasn’t really had since Steven Gerrard retired to MLS. With all do respect to Jordan Henderson it’s only a matter of time before van Dijk is wearing the captains armband.
On the day van Dijk had 11 clearences, 1 tackle, 1 interception, and 1 block. It was a monster performance from a guy that we have come to expect these types of things from but to me his most valuable assest has been the impact he has had on the rest of the defense and how he has made them so much better.
No better example of this is what he’s helped transform Dejan Lovren in to. It’s no secret Lovren is probably the biggest scapegoat amongst Liverpool fans he’s been disliked and no doubt Lovren has made his own bed with this. He’s had some real messes of games throughout his tenure with the Reds. No better of example of this was the win over Tottenham this season when Klopp had to yank him in the first half due to performance not injury which is something you never see especially in the first half of a game.
No doubt things have been hard for Lovren during his time with the Reds but you also have to give him credit when you talk about the resillent nature of this team. It would have been easy for him to give up, ask for a transfer and except defeat because it wasn’t working out here but he didn’t he kept grinding and giving everything he had, he bet on himself that he would turn it around and the two legs against Man City is proof to what type of player he’s become.
No doubt van Dijk’s influence has helped him immensely. To put it simply van Dijk has made him a better player but that’s what great players do they make the people around them better.
But Lovren has had to go out and do it which he has. He has taking quite the beating from Liverpool fans on social media and like I said some of it has been fair but some of it hasn’t been fair. He’s been better than people have given him credit for being. Honestly since Klopp has taken over he’s been pretty good except for the nightmares, the problem is those nightmares have been a real problem and have outweighed the good performances. But he’s been a better player than most are willing to admit.
But after the performances over the past week against City I think people need to get over themselves and finally give him the credit he deserves.
Just like van Dijk he was an absolute monster in this game. He stood up to all the pressure that City threw at the end and not once made a mistake, he was a presence the Reds needed over the 90 minutes to hold on and get the job done against this freghtening City attack.
Lovren is my man of the match. On the day he had 10 clearances, 3 blocks, 1 interceptions, and 3 tackles. It was an absolute monster performance .
Don’t forget about the full backs. We talked so much about Alexander-Arnold’s performance in the first leg and you knew they would be coming at him again and he proved that the first leg wasn’t a fluke. He had 2 clearences, 6 interceptions, and 3 tackles. The 6 interceptions is a huge number that really proves his value.
Andrew Robertson who like Salah who was a question mark with a minor injury from the first leg continued his strong play which is like saying the grass is green at this point. He had 7 clearences on the night.
The stats for the 4 of them proves how valuable they were and how cool, calm, and immense they were dealing with the City attack.
The group deserves a lot of credit for their chemistry. It seemed like once a minute they were able to pull Leroy Sane offsides every 2 minutes. On the night City was offsides 8 times. That shows the chemistry they have and is huge in shutting a team like this down, especially after the first half when City only had one shot on target. They only had 3 shots on target for them game and with the none they had in the first leg this back 4 held Manchester City, one if the best teams on the planet to 3 shots on target over 180 minutes, that’s incredible and something only great defensive teams can do which this team has become.
Robertson and Alexander-Arnold deserve a lot of credit for getting forward in the second half. They were pinned deep in the first half but I thought one of the keys to the turnaround after the half was their ability to get forward after the half.
When they were getting forward it opened things up the attack more and gave the attack more space going forward which was huge for them turning the game around.
It could write a blog just on Klopp and what he had meant to this club since his arrival but for this purpose I will just stick to this game.
There is no doubt that his presence gives this team a belief that they can beat anyone but when they went to the locker room staggering Klopp had to change something, they were tempting fate too much being pushed back as much as they were.
I would say the biggest adjustment Klopp made was that he got Robertson and Alexander-Arnold to get forward more. It gave the midfield more space and it just opened things up more for everyone.
It was a small move but important move that had to be done. They couldn’t afford to be pinned back so much. Personally I think this little adjustment was the most important key to getting the all important road goal and once they got that it was all but over and you could see how much City’s play dropped off after.
Every game this man shows his value. Yes we love his raw emotion and all that but this man is every bit as smart tactically as Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho. The latter who he coached circles around during the two legs of this and really 3 times in a row going back to the game in January at Anfield.
In fact no one has beaten the great Pep more than Klopp has.
I couldn’t hit publish on this without talking about the midfield. They were without a doubt the part of the team that the nervousness came from.
With Jordan Henderson being out suspended and Emre Can being out injured there was a lot of concern about the holding midfield role coming into this. We got a little sneak peak of things to come Saturday with Gini Wijnaldum playing that role over Henderson. At that point we knew this was a practice run for Wijnaldum as he was going to be forced into a uncomfortable road on the biggest of stages.
The first half the midfield trio of Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and James Milner find themselves doing nothing but defend and they did a good helping the defense out doing the necessary dirty work to help hold City at just the one goal.
But in the second half they came up huge. As I said Klopp had the full backs get forward more which was huge, so there was a little more space for everyone to work with. And with City pushing so many bodies forward once they got past the first wave there was plenty of space to operate to get the ball to the front 3 where they could do damage.
It was Salah’s goal, the all important goal that Wijnaldum showed his value. Gini found himself with space a few yards from midfield in his own end. He made a nifty move to shake off Gabriel Jesus to play the ball forward to Oxlade-Chamberlain who then found Salah who found Mane and we all know what happened next, but it was the initial play of Wijnaldum that got that started. It was a calm cool play that is needed from a #6, it was the goal the Reds needed and showed that he was more than capable of getting the job done at that position. It’s the little performances like this that won’t receive a lot of mention because Salah, Firmino, and the defense will get all the headlines but they don’t get by City without Wijnaldum. He stepped up and did the job against one of the best teams on the planet in one of the most difficult positions to play, a position that isn’t his natural position. It’s shows his versatility and maybe a position we may see him play more of in the future.
I can’t go without mentioning Milner and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Those two worked their tales off all night running miles. During the two legs those two worked so hard on both ends. Work that is usually the thankless type of work but the type of work you don’t win without. These two were so big over the two legs and we aren’t in the semis without them.
This is a great feeling it’s almost 4 hours since the game ended as I’m typing this and the buzz hasn’t worn off.
This is the type of moment we dreamed of but also thought was possible when FSG hired Jurgen Klopp, it’s the type of moment that we will remember for years of come. It’s the type of moment we have waited a long time for, but it finally happened. This City team is a special team. They will likely be celebrating the league title very soon, which is a great accomplishment on it’s own but they wanted this, they wanted this to take their very good season to a special season and we ruined that. No doubt there title will be bittesweet because of this.
This has been an amazing run and we may have even a brighter future with Navy Keita arriving this summer and maybe others. There is no doubt players around Europe see what’s happening at Anfield and will want to be a part of this, but that’s then this is now. No one wants to play this team and if we can beat Porto and City by a combined score of 10-1 we can do anything so while the future may be bright the moment we’re living in is pretty damn awesome and I’m not counting this team out when it comes to the semis or beyond.
Lastly I hope I’m not the only one who is getting a little satisfaction that on the same night we finished off City Barcelona choked against Roma. I’m just thinking about Phillip Coutinho who had to sit there and watch his current team blow it when he couldn’t help him since he was cap tied playing for Liverpool in the group stage. But he had to force his way through in January instead of waiting for the summer to go to Barcelona. He could have been part of something so special that he would never experience with Barca. But then again maybe if he was still here this wouldn’t be happening, we may just be a better team without him. He’s a great player but the team as a whole may just be better.