Liverpool versus Manchester City, at Anfield in the Champions League — it’s the fixture of the round by some distance. Klopp vs Guardiola, De Bruyne vs Salah, it’s a meeting of the heavyweights, and one that should prove fascinating for all.
Full of Confidence
Most sides in Europe would be wringing their hands at the thought of coming up against Pep Guardiola’s side given the football they have played this season has often been on another plane entirely. The Reds, though, do not have such fears. They remain one of a quartet of teams to beat the Premier League leaders this season and were the first to inflict defeat on them when they met back in January.
That meeting at Anfield, which resulted in a 4-3 win for Jurgen Klopp’s side, remains one of the games of the season and the reason why the Reds will heading into this Champions League quarter final meeting full of confidence. They know, though, that it will take them performing to their ultimate — and enacting the strategy Klopp plans for them to the maximum — for them to walk away with victory once again.
So how do they repeat January’s heroics? Klopp will have a plan, no doubt, but there are three key tenets that his plan should be built around.
Going on the Offensive
Liverpool’s first plan will be to do what few other sides in Europe would be brave enough to do and go on the offensive. January’s victory was built on them having the bravery to do what every other side hadn’t; attack Manchester City from the get go.
With a team as offensively powerful as this City side the temptation is to sit back, defend deep and hit on the counter when the opportunity arises. It’s a plan that has worked for some but failed for most. Often that opportunity doesn’t come and City, courtesy of their plethora of attacking talent, finds a way through.
Liverpool resisted that temptation and instead went at their opponents seeking to expose potential defensive weaknesses. It was something they succeeded in. They enjoyed 16 shots in total and put seven of them on target. 57% of those shots on target ended up in the back of Ederson’s net. Those are impressive numbers to say the least.
Of course, one was Roberto Firmino’s sublime chip, one a thunderbolt from Sadio Mane and another a superb long-range effort from Mohamed Salah but if Liverpool can replicate January’s offensive numbers in this meeting, they will be on their way to another big victory.
Out of this World Pressing
To get into those offensive positions, Liverpool will need to reproduce another of the key principles of January’s victory: Their pressing.
Every man and his dog knows that Klopp wants his Liverpool team to be one that presses high up the pitch, forcing their opponents to make mistakes and in the process relieving the pressure on their own defence. During his time at Anfield there have been brief periods where this Geggenpressing has been on full display.
January’s game at Anfield was the best they have ever done it under his leadership. It is why the German described the pressing as “out of this world” in his post match press conference. To put it into simple terms, Liverpool caused Manchester City numerous problems by pressing them extremely high up the pitch.
The opener in that game came from Roberto Firmino pressing and dispossessing Fabian Delph, while Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah’s goal also coming from forcing City into giving the ball away cheaply. Throughout the game, Liverpool forced City into misplacing 33 passes in their own half alone. Similarly, City made five mistakes leading to shots at Anfield – the most by any team in a Premier League match at that point in the season.
They are quite phenomenal statistics for a team managed by Pep Guardiola and clearly demonstrate the power of Liverpool’s pressing. Reproducing it will be key to victory once again.
Target De Bruyne
Of course, even while going on the offensive and pressing Manchester City to death may not be enough to stop them. Not when they have players like Kevin De Bruyne at their disposal.
The Belgian has reached another level entirely this season, racking up assists and goals to put himself at the forefront of the Player of the Year running. Saying that Liverpool need to isolate De Bruyne is a little simplistic, but the proof is there from their last meeting. If they can target the midfielder, they can stop City.
In January’s meeting De Bruyne failed to create a single chance throughout the entire game. That came about because Liverpool’s pressing forced him to only complete 26 of his 37 passes in the Red’s half, while he surrendered possession with 32.9% of his touches.
It was one of his worst days this season and as a result Sergio Aguero was anonymous throughout and City were, surprisingly, toothless. If Liverpool can isolate De Bruyne once again, their chances of coming away with a big win at Anfield will rise exponentially. It is, however, a job that is easier said than done.