Champions League: Jurgen Klopp outwits Pep Guardiola again; Liverpool sizzle in attack, defend doggedly to beat Manchester City
It wasn't simply in attack; it was also Liverpool's dogged defending in the second half after losing Salah to an injury, as they improvised against everything Manchester City threw at them
Fireworks in the stands at kick-off, impassioned renditions of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' reverberating throughout the 54,000-capacity Anfield, seizing the mantle against the best club in the country — the last time Liverpool sizzled in the quarter-final stage of the UEFA Champions League, Rafael Benitez was in Merseyside and not Tyneside.
A 3-0 victory against any opponent is an emphatic win, but to register such a result against a Manchester City side brimming with talents in the first leg of the continent's premier club competition requires a confluence of luck and skill. And Jurgen Klopp's side played a near-perfect game to ensure they have a huge advantage going into the second leg at the Etihad Stadium next week.
Liverpool lined up in their regular 4-3-3 formation, the inclusion of James Milner a surprising decision on Klopp's part, but the manager's use of the experienced 32-year-old worked well, unlike Pep Guardiola's tweaking of his system. When the midfielder showed agility beyond his years to win a second ball in the midfield, he set up Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain for a stunning strike from 30 yards out, Liverpool's second of the night. It was Milner's seventh Champions League assist of the season, the most by any player this year.
It was just eight minutes after Mohamed Salah had pounced on a loose ball in City's penalty area to slot a thumping strike past Ederson to give Liverpool a deserving lead. As a result of a blistering counter-attack started by Milner and orchestrated by Salah, Roberto Firmino found himself in space to get off a shot against City's custodian, but Ederson could only deflect the strike into a crowded defensive third where Salah lurked.
The Egyptian then created his side's third goal by putting in a beauty of a cross which evaded every blue shirt, from Fernandinho to Kompany, only for Sadio Mane to guide it into the far corner. And thus, a 20-minute spell eviscerated Guardiola's cautious approach to the crucial tie.
"In this kind of defensively dominant, not too deep, being in the right area of the pitch, so if we win the ball then there is a big opportunity for us to use the space they have to leave open, because you cannot have this kind of football with all these fantastic patterns when you cannot use all the space and immediately be compact again," Klopp said after the game to explain his system.
The Manchester City manager devised a three-man midfield with Gundogan and David Silva on either side of Fernandinho to counter Liverpool's high pressing. He dropped Raheem Sterling to the bench to accommodate Gundogan, but the German midfielder had a poor game overall, playing second fiddle for most of the night. Only after he was hauled off for Sterling did Manchester City begin to cause problems for the Liverpool backline.
Sane, the visitor's most potent attacking threat of the night, put in yet another solid performance but was outclassed by Trent Alexander-Arnold. Liverpool's young right back revelled in one of his best displays of the season, ably complemented by Andrew Robertson on the opposite wing.
Things weren't always bleak for City, however, and the game's initial good chances were all created by the visitors, mainly due to the stellar pace and incredible guile showed by Leroy Sane. But unlike their usual self, City failed to create clear-cut goalscoring opportunities, a folly which they are likely to rectify in the second leg, given Aguero's imminent return and Sterling's inclusion in the playing XI.
Guardiola wasn't simply outwitted by Klopp on the attacking front; it was also Liverpool's dogged defending in the second half after losing Salah to an injury, as they improvised against everything Manchester City threw at them. It spoke volumes about how much the Kop has progressed as a squad since last season.
"The result is so tough. We cannot deny it. But we have 90 minutes more and we're going to try it. Of course, it's so complicated because we're going to play a top team but we're going to try it," a visibly disappointed Guardiola acknowledged after the game.
The tie, however, is only half-done, as Klopp admitted, for City have been almost invincible at the Etihad this season. And Liverpool would not have forgotten their Premier League trip to Etihad earlier in the season, which resulted in a 5-0 drubbing. "I believe a lot in my team. They've shown me so many good things over the season," Guardiola concluded, promising football fanatics around the globe of yet another bona fide thriller in the second leg.
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