Liverpool v Man City: Who has edge in Champions League quarter-final?

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It is a confrontation between two of Europe’s most charismatic, high-profile managers in Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and City’s Pep Guardiola.

It is also a confrontation between the two best attacking sides in the Premier League, with 163 goals between them. And Liverpool are still the only side to beat Manchester City in their runaway title success.

So where will the key battles be and who will come out on top?

Klopp’s record of six victories in 12 games against Guardiola with Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool – in opposition to Bayern Munich and Manchester City respectively – means he has the best record of managerial success against the Catalan.

It hardly makes Klopp Guardiola’s nemesis. Guardiola has five wins, and both have had success this season with City winning 5-0 at Etihad Stadium in September before Liverpool came out on top 4-3 at Anfield in January.

Both managerial styles are so entrenched, principles so firm, that neither is likely depart from them even in a game of this importance.

Klopp’s Liverpool will go all-out attack, while City will play the possession game bolted on to the pace of a superb attack, which is Guardiola’s hallmark.

Former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson told BBC Sport: “This will be everything that is good about football. We over-hype many games these days – but this is a game that cannot be over-hyped.

“There are times people expect a classic and never see it, but I would be very surprised if this is anything less than that when these two teams and managers meet with a place in the Champions League semi-finals at stake.

“The hype is justified because they can’t play any other way than by going at each other.”

“I don’t see anyone changing their style,” said former Manchester City and England defender Danny Mills.

“City will try to keep the ball from Liverpool. Their defenders are getting better and better but they also have this ability to stop you having the ball.

“If you haven’t got it you can’t score and this is how Guardiola operates. City can sit deep, pass it around and keep the ball off you. This is the extra defensive strategy they will have.”

And former Liverpool midfielder Jan Molby agrees that Klopp and Guardiola will not focus too much on the two league games this season.

“I think the two managers are so set in the way they play and approach games that it almost doesn’t matter what happened in those games,” said Molby.

“I’m not convinced Klopp and Guardiola are the sort of coaches who revisit games as much as other managers do.

“They look ahead. They know what they’ve got and believe if they get it right they will be difficult to beat.

“Yes, they will pay some kind of attention but it is about them. I do think the longer you can keep the game at 100 miles per hour from end to end, the better it is going to be for Liverpool – but 180 minutes is a long time.”

The centrepiece of the strategies of Klopp and Guardiola is an attack that has the potential to outscore any opposition.

Liverpool and Manchester City are the Premier League’s top scorers with 75 and 88 respectively – so this Champions League quarter-final provides the perfect stage for the face-off.

Klopp’s three-pronged spearhead of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have scored 75 goals in 119 games in all competitions – with Egyptian Salah scoring a remarkable 37 goals in 42 appearances.

City’s attacking quartet of Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus have scored 76 goals in 149 games between them – statistics that illustrate how heavily reliant Liverpool have been on their big three.

Klopp’s pressing game worked with success in the victory at Anfield and, as the below heat maps show, Mane, Firmino and Salah not only contributed three goals in a nine-minute spell around the hour-mark but were also key to putting pressure on City’s defence.

Salah’s work is more confined to the opponent’s half than the tireless Mane and Firmino and he will carry the main weight of Liverpool’s attacking hopes after a devastating first season at Anfield.

“It will give Liverpool and their fans great encouragement that their best players are in such brilliant form,” added Lawrenson. “Mo Salah just keeps scoring and seems like he can’t miss.

“I’ve heard people say Mane has not been the same as last season. That’s true because he was brilliant then, but he’s still been very good.

“But Roberto Firmino has been outstanding as well without getting the same recognition as Salah. If Liverpool are to get through this tie he will play a big part.”

It is this trio that Guardiola and City will look to subdue – but Klopp and Liverpool will be presented with a task that will be just as arduous.

Mills believes this is one of the key areas, with Liverpool unlikely to shut out City over two legs.

He said: “We laud Liverpool’s three front players and rightly so. They have been exceptional, particularly Mo Salah – absolutely outstanding – but someone like Sergio Aguero has been doing that for the past five or six seasons and they also have Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus.”

And Mills is so impressed with the quality, balance and variety of Manchester City’s attack that he asks a question many would regard as unthinkable after one man’s stellar season at Anfield.

“It sounds daft but would Mo Salah get in Manchester City’s team? All the Liverpool fans will say: ‘Yes of course he would.’ Who would you swap him for? Would you swap him for Sane? I’m not so sure.

“Manchester City have a fantastic balance going forward.”

And Lawrenson added: “We talk about Liverpool’s front three being able to scare any team left in the Champions League – which is true – but you can say exactly the same about Manchester City. This is the level we are talking about.”

 

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