(Photo Credit: Ruaraidh Gillies)
19:45 BST, Wednesday 4th April, Anfield (Liverpool, England), BT Sport
Liverpool and Manchester City meet on Wednesday night for the first time in European competition. Despite the two sides knowing each other extremely well from domestic competitions, they have never before battled out for European Glory.
Domestically, both teams will be happy with their progress this season. Liverpool look as if they’ve all but confirmed their place in next years Champions League after they went ten points clear of fifth-placed Chelsea, whilst City’s 3-1 win over Everton has left them three points away from being crowned Premier League champions.
Liverpool are desperate to continue their love affair with the Champions League and will have to go all out as it’s the reds last chance for a trophy this year. Pep Guardiola already has the Capital One Cup in the bag for City and the Premier League is all but won for them as well, so adding a Champions League to that is very much in his plans too.
Liverpool will be confident they can match the champions-elect though, having been the only side to have beaten them in the Premier League this season. But with the first leg being at Anfield, the reds will need a big performance to be able to go back to the Etihad and give City a real game.
Last Time Out
Crystal Palace 1-2 Liverpool (Premier League)
Liverpool travelled to South London for the lunchtime kick-off knowing full well that they have a poor record when playing at lunchtime and knew that their opponents would be well up for the challenge as they attempt to fight off the looming yet very real threat of relegation.
Palace took the lead early in the game after the home side were awarded a penalty. Loris Karius brought down Wilfried Zaha in the box after the Ivory Coast forward got to the ball first and Palace midfielder Luka Milivojevic duly converted the spot-kick home.
Liverpool thought they had a penalty of their own, but referee Neil Swarbrick booked Sadio Mane for diving. The winger thought he’d equalised late on in the first half, but his header was correctly ruled out for offside.
Sadio Mane was at the forefront of the action again in the second half as he converted James Milner’s low cross into the bottom corner to equalise for Liverpool just four minutes after the break.
Mohamed Salah then scored his 29th goal of the Premier League campaign in the 84th minute, firing home from the edge of the six-yard box after Andy Robertson’s cross evaded the Palace defence and found its way to the Egyptian.
The win and results elsewhere meant that Liverpool finished the weekend ten points clear of Chelsea who sit in fifth.
Everton 1-3 Manchester City (Premier League)
City travelled to Merseyside for the first of two visits this week to take on a rather dire, uninspiring Everton side.
With the away side taking just four minutes to take the lead, David Silva’s cross found Leroy Sane, with the German winger volleying the ball home giving Jordan Pickford no chance.
City doubled their lead just eight minutes later, Kevin De Bruyne’s cross finding Gabriel Jesus in the box, who easily headed the ball home for his 9th goal of the season. At this point, it seemed as if it could be any number for City, with Everton folding completely.
Manchester City’s dominance was on full display in the first half as Raheem Sterling rounded off an easy first half, converting David Silva’s low driven cross into the back of the Everton net.
Yannick Bolasie’s second-half effort struck both posts before crawling over the line to put a small dent in what was otherwise a perfect performance for City, made even more impressive by the fact that they were without Sergio Aguero.
The win over Everton now puts Manchester City three points away from being crowned Champions of England and can do so by beating arch-rivals Manchester United next Sunday.
The reds have somewhat of an injury crisis on their hands, with Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Emre Can all ruled out due to injury. Three first teamers missing means Dejan Lovren could return to the starting lineup and Nathaniel Clyne could feature for the first time all season.
Manchester City Lineup
Sergio Aguero is facing a race against the clock to be fit for the first leg of this Champions League tie, whilst John Stones and Fabian Delph also face late fitness tests. Aymeric Laporte started as left-back in the win over Everton, but it’s unlikely they’ll risk him there against Mohamed Salah when Danilo should be ready to start.
Key Battle: Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool) vs Leroy Sane (Manchester City)
Last time these sides faced, Liverpool came out victorious 4-3 in a Premier League classic but when the sides met at the Etihad in September, City ran out 5-0 winners. The thing the games had in common was Liverpool’s inability to deal with the threat on the right-hand side.
Trent Alexander-Arnold was under Sane’s spell back in September and could not deal with the movement of the winger, but when the sides met in January, it was Joe Gomez in his place, but he suffered the same fate.
Third time could be the charm for Liverpool as first-choice right-back Nathaniel Clyne is back in first team contention after missing almost eight months due to a back injury.
It’s a big call for Jurgen Klopp to make, but starting Clyne must be a necessary risk. Liverpool cannot suffer the same fate three times in one season from the same player. City will be aware of how Liverpool will want to deal with Leroy Sane, but they are fully aware of the talent he has and the problems he can cause the Liverpool right-back, no matter who it is.
City must be weary
For as good and as record-breaking City have been this season in all competitions, their defence look extremely suspect when they came to Anfield. They panicked on multiple occasions and were unable to deal with the high-pressure of Liverpool’s attack.
It’s the first time we’ve seen it all year, City looking completely inept. That’s not to say Liverpool will be able to do it again, not at all. But City have to be cautious of the fact that Liverpool knows what it takes to score against them and do so in quick succession.
Liverpool have often had their defensive capabilities under Klopp scrutinised - rightly so - but if anyone is going to be able to unlock the City defence again, it’s the trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
Liverpool’s midfield woes
When Liverpool were able to beat City in January, their midfield consisted of Emre Can, Gini Wijnaldum and Oxlade-Chamberlain and they did their jobs perfectly to ensure the win, tirelessly pressing City every inch of the way.
But this time round, with Emre Can injured and Gini Wijnaldum unlikely to start, it’ll be a very different midfield which could easily play into Manchester City’s hands.
The performance of Liverpool’s midfield against Crystal Palace calls for concern as they really struggled to deal with the pace of the game. Now imagine that pace times ten with a vastly improved attacking outlet and there are definitely reasons to be worried.
Plus, if captain Jordan Henderson gets booked, he will miss the second leg at the Etihad. If he does, Liverpool could be left in serious trouble without a holding midfielder.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City
Both teams will be looking for goals to take back to the Etihad, but Liverpool’s over-reliance on their attack could see them facing a counter-attacking problem of their own.
A 2-2 draw would give City a huge boost, going back to the Etihad with two away goals.