Two morale-sapping losses in the space of five days provided reactionaries with much ammunition to fire at Pep Guardiola.
A man regularly lauded as the best manager on the planet before defeats to Liverpool and Manchester United, pundits are now arguing that the Catalan lacks a Plan B, is a poor defensive coach and too often tinkers with his line-up.
Make no mistake about it, though, Manchester City are more than capable of blitzing Liverpool to advance to the Champions League semifinals.
Manchester City were outclassed and overpowered in the first leg at Anfield, meaning Jürgen Klopp’s men take a three-goal advantage into tonight’s tie at the Etihad Stadium.
However, City did enjoy chances: 11 of them to Liverpool’s nine. It could have proved a very different game had Guardiola’s men made better use of their 66% possession and converted goal-scoring opportunities.
The same can be said for Saturday’s crushing defeat to rivals Manchester United. In the aftermath of Paul Pogba’s brilliance and a comeback win, it is easy to forget that City scored two goals and enjoyed 20 attempts on David de Gea’s goal.
If Raheem Sterling and Ilkay Gündogan had converted glorious clear-cut chances, City would have been out of sight.
One thing is guaranteed tonight: City will craft enough opportunities to put the ball into the back of Loris Karius’s net at least three times.
“What we’ve shown this year — even in the last game — is that we created a lot of chances in a few minutes. We know that and the opponents know that. We did it many times, not just once or twice. We created a lot of chances in a short period of time," Guardiola told The Times.
City’s Spanish supremo is correct: The champions-elect have recorded a league-high total of 563 shots this season — almost 18 per game.
We know that Manchester City are a team capable of pulling off a Harry Houdini-style escape, having scored 109 goals in 41 games in the Premier League and Champions League this season, hitting three goals or more in 20 of those matches.
Guardiola’s message to his star-studded City squad is abundantly clear:
“Don’t give up, don’t give up, it’s more than 90 minutes – we will create many chances, then we have to be clinical and, OK, if we are not clinical, the next one, the next one, the next one.”
Manchester City enjoy a wealth of attacking riches, making Guardiola is the envy of many managers. Sterling, Sergio Agüero, Gabriel Jesus, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sané are all quite capable of winning matches single-handedly.
The obituaries have been written but don’t rule out a famous turnaround – City have too much quality to be cast aside.
Underestimating a team who have netted 90 Premier League goals this campaign could leave some of the more overzealous amongst the footballing writing fraternity with egg on their face – a point Klopp is all too aware of.
Before the game, the German has noted that his team must be prepared to “weather a thunderstorm”. Favourites they may be, but Tuesday's encounter will not be an easy one.
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