Everyone bangs on about Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, but if Manchester City seek encouragement that all is not lost, they do not have to think back even that far.
Last Wednesday, to be precise. Specifically, the second half. Liverpool defended magnificently, yes, and if they do so again, it is hard to see City scoring three. But put that aside for a moment and think of how the first half ended and the second panned out.
It was a different Liverpool, once they were 3-0 up. They sat deeper. They invited City on. They probably didn’t mean to. Jurgen Klopp would have sent them back out, no doubt, with instructions to keep playing their game, just as he will on Tuesday night. After all, why wouldn’t a team continue with a strategy that had earned a 3-0 lead?
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah scores their first goal of first-leg match last week against Man City
Because they’re 3-0 up, that’s why. And to play the kind of football that results in a three-goal advantage requires an element of risk. Except now, they don’t need to take a risk. And footballers are human, with human instincts. They’re risk-averse. That’s why people cash out of bets. That’s why they stop gambling at race meetings after a big win.
There might be a good thing going in the last, but you’ve already paid for the day with a bit on top. Why take a chance? So Liverpool thought differently at 3-0. Meaning if City score one, heaven forbid two on Tuesday night, wild horses are unlikely to drag Liverpool to take a cavalier stance.
There will be a lot of mixed messages. Play your normal game; but defend for your lives. Be brave; but be careful. Take a chance; but don’t be silly. And Liverpool are missing their captain, Jordan Henderson, an outstanding defensive screen at Anfield last week.
Plainly, every coach would wish to be where Klopp is now – not least Pep Guardiola – but that does not mean managing a first leg success is easy.
Champions League last-16 knockout stage, 2011-12. AC Milan 4-0 Arsenal. Tie over, one would imagine. Yet Milan arrived in London three weeks later strangely unsure of how to approach the second game. Their manager, Massimiliano Allegri, made few changes, largely enforced, with eight of the 11 starting again.
Circumstances had changed, however. Milan knew they were better than Arsenal, but not how to safely express that. Did they go for it again, try to win 8-0 on aggregate – or protect what they had? Falling between two stools, they were 3-0 down at half-time. Most of the locals were by now expecting the greatest comeback in Champions League history – yet by getting close so early, Arsenal inadvertently made up Milan’s minds. They now had 45 minutes to protect a one-goal lead – a position in which any good Italian team feels comfortable. Now entirely sure of their purpose, Milan calmly shut Arsenal out. The drama subsided, Milan won 4-3 on aggregate.
Every coach would wish to be where Jurgen Klopp is now – not least Pep Guardiola
The same confusion set in on October 20, 2010, after Tottenham got into a frightful pickle against Inter Milan. They went a goal down after two minutes, had goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes sent off after eight and were trailing 4-0 after 35. Playmaker Luka Modric had also gone off to allow a substitute goalkeeper on. Coming out for the second half, Inter were no doubt prepared for metaphorical handshakes in the tunnel and a mutually advantageous truce. The game is over, nobody wants to get hurt.
What Inter were not prepared for was counter-intuitive managerial lunacy. Fearing his team could lose by eight or nine, Harry Redknapp decided to attack.
‘This isn’t the knockout stage, it’s a group game,’ he told the players, according to his autobiography. ‘We’ve got three other matches after this – win those and we’ll go through. It doesn’t make any difference to us what happens here. F*** it – we’ll have a go at them. See what they’re made of.’
The hosts were bemused. Inter Milan had never been confronted by a team four goals and a man down at half- time, who still fancied their chances at the San Siro. They hadn’t seen too many like Gareth Bale, either. Expecting a training session, Inter walked into the frantic conditions of a cup final. Bale scored a hat-trick, Tottenham lost 4-3 and had the game lasted five minutes longer would probably have drawn.
For now, of course, everyone at Liverpool is of one mind. ‘We are here to not concede and to score to win the game,’ insisted Klopp. ‘So that is the plan. There is no other plan. We know that if you get passive against City, don’t bother to come.’
James Milner said: ‘We want to approach it as we approach every game and try to win’
He had support in midfield. ‘We want to approach it as we approach every game and try to win,’ said James Milner. ‘It’s down to us not to sit back and be on the front foot.’ And defence. ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea to see what they do,’ added Virgil van Dijk. ‘Everybody knows how much quality City have – you could see that in the second half at Anfield.’
Exactly. Yet that is why sitting back could feel increasingly like the smart plan as the game unfolds. City will have plenty of the ball, as they always do at home. City are good on the ball and dangerous. They scored five against Liverpool in this fixture in September.
It will take some very strong minds to fight fire with fire in those circumstances, to take the risks Liverpool did in the first leg to get where they are now. Even though, obviously, that’s the way to do it.
Pep’s boys creche and burn
Manchester City blew a two-goal lead against Manchester United on Saturday. That happens in football. By far the strangest event of the afternoon occurred before kick-off, however, when Pep Guardiola allowed his team out with their kids as match-day mascots.
Some players were scrambling to keep lively tots under control, while Vincent Kompany, the captain, met his opposite number juggling a small child in his arms. Lovely – but was it entirely appropriate for such a big game against a rival? Did it not smack a little of complacency, of thinking the job done?
Family time on the pitch after the game, sure – but not before. Why did Guardiola allow it? In the corresponding fixture in December, he marched down the touchline and snatched a sky blue Santa hat off the head of substitute Eliaquim Mangala, who had been told to warm up.
The impression was of a serious, focused coach who would not tolerate any player who did not have his mind on the job. Four months later he lets the team prepare alongside Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm. It didn’t look right, it didn’t feel right.
And one imagines it won’t be repeated.
Guardiola marched down touchline and snatched a sky blue Santa hat off Eliaquim Mangala
Trent’s got talent but World Cup is too soon
Trent Alexander-Arnold had an absolute stormer against Leroy Sane of Manchester City last week. He is, without doubt, one of the best young players in the country and has shown that potential all season.
The calls for him to be rushed into England’s World Cup squad, however, are premature and unnecessary.
One position in which Gareth Southgate is blessed right now is right back. The understudy in that role, Kieran Trippier, is so strong it has allowed the England manager to convert Kyle Walker to the right of his back three. Trippier is the best deliverer of a cross, or a dead ball, in the country right now. To accommodate him in this way, then, makes perfect sense.
Why would Southgate need to fast-track Alexander-Arnold, too? How many right backs do England need in Russia? Alexander-Arnold will play for England sooner rather than later. He will be a regular, or at least an option, for many years to come.
Yet to rush him through for this summer would answer an imaginary panic. Right now, Trippier with Walker inside is England’s best option. Alexander-Arnold is 19 and he’s going to be great. Let him grow.
City’s midfielder Leroy Sane (left) is tackled by Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold
Almost a week on and still no more than the two arrests inside the ground on the day, following the attack on Manchester City’s bus.
‘We will do everything in our power to put these people before the courts,’ promised Merseyside Police’s match commander, Superintendent Paul White. Yet as more details emerge, his stewardship appears either incompetent or causative to the carnage.
If it is substantiated that Merseyside Police would not let Manchester City change route, because it would disappoint Liverpool’s fans; that it was announced outside Anfield that the bus was five minutes away; that just 49 police officers were on duty rather than the hundreds required; that the match was ranked only category B and not one of increased risk; and that the bus’ precise journey was made public for health and safety reasons so that fans did not rush from street to street in an attempt to confront it, the match commander should be stood down from his position.
If Manchester City, like most elite clubs, did not have transport designed to withstand a terror attack there could have been serious physical injury.
Superintendent White utterly misjudged the threat around the event, may have inadvertently contributed to the danger, and the subsequent mop-up seems unhurried at best. This is a mistake that cannot happen twice.
Ugly scenes outside Anfield marred Liverpool’s 3-0 victory against Manchester City last week
Bus row shows Klopp’s quality
It is often said that Jurgen Klopp is the perfect manager for Liverpool. He certainly was in the aftermath of the attack on the Manchester City team bus last week. Liverpool, the club, moved very swiftly in an attempt to limit the damage of that event, an apology was issued even before the full extent of the violence was known. As subsequent footage from inside the bus confirmed, it was far from a handful of assailants who behaved disgracefully.
Yet Klopp went further. We frequently hear he understands the emotional heart of Liverpool, the passion at its core. Sometimes that can blind a manager to reality. Kenny Dalglish, for instance, horribly misjudged the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra racism controversy, casting his player as the victim.
Klopp, by contrast, made no excuses. He said he felt embarrassed and ashamed, that he would apologise – again – to Pep Guardiola when they met this week. He also said he would no longer allow team coaches to be welcomed, or otherwise, in the streets around Anfield before big games – not even the positive reception afforded the Liverpool bus.
‘You had the chance, didn’t use it, sorry,’ he said. ‘I am really angry about it.’ Klopp did not have to return to the incident. The club had made an official statement and had also been charged over various offences by UEFA.
One could say Klopp invited more trouble, yet there was nothing crafted in his words. He was sincere and sincerely upset. In that moment he stood for the best of his club against the worst.
Klopp was the perfect manager for Liverpool in aftermath of tattack on City team bus
As Mohamed Salah’s numbers increase, the likelier it becomes that Liverpool will be fighting off a bid from Barcelona or Real Madrid this summer. The club are insistent there will be no sale and, this time, must mean it. The loss of Philippe Coutinho has not harmed them as much as expected, if at all, but Liverpool cannot afford to become Barcelona’s feeder, having previously done deals for Javier Mascherano and Luis Suarez.
Southampton have sold Liverpool key players since 2014 and now look where they are. Liverpool cannot be relegated from the Premier League, but they can fall from the Champions League elite through steady selling. Coutinho has to be the last departure for La Liga – for a while at least.
Liverpool’s Salah is likely to attract interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid this summer
Jupp leaves Pep in shade – again
So he did it again. At the age of 72, Jupp Heynckes won the title with Bayern Munich at the weekend and, in doing so, stole Pep Guardiola’s thunder.
Heynckes was the Munich coach the year before Guardiola arrived and won the treble of league, cup and Champions League that put the new man’s achievements in the shade. Whatever Guardiola won at Munich, it couldn’t top Heynckes – and he never succeeded in Europe the way his predecessor did.
Last Saturday, April 7, both men were on course to claim the title: Guardiola as coach of Manchester City, Heynckes as Munich caretaker, having replaced Carlo Ancelotti mid-season. Guardiola lost the Manchester derby and still waits, Munich won the Bavarian derby, at Augsburg 4-1 – giving Heynckes his fourth Bundesliga crown in three spells at the club.
Heynckes looks set fair to reach the Champions League semi-finals, too – his team lead Sevilla 2-1 with the second leg at home – and are also in the semi-finals of the German Cup, meaning he remains on course for another treble.
He has already said he intends to stand down at the end of this season, leaving some poor soul in his shadow once more, and he dedicated Munich’s title to the man he replaced, Ancelotti. Some achievement and some guy.
Bayern’s Juan Bernat, Rafinha, Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez celebrate winning league
The Europa League may be considered a miserable downgrade to members of the Premier League elite, but not to Burnley. The club last played in Europe in 1967 and if boss Sean Dyche could steer his team back there it would be a stupendous achievement.
The competition may never achieve the epic prestige of Tuesday’s match, but European success is relative and for Burnley to be in a UEFA draw with the likes of AC Milan or Sevilla would be a triumph. Yes, next season would then be a big test and a demanding balancing act, but if Burnley do not wish to embrace such a landmark achievement, what is the point?