It’s a record that on paper at least reads rather so-so, but Jurgen Klopp’s six wins in twelve meetings against sides managed by Pep Guardiola is as good as any you will find in world football.
Remember, Pep has been handed a number of ‘golden goose’ roles in his managerial career at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, and so there is evidence to suggest there is more to Klopp’s decent return against the Spaniard than randomness and happenstance.
The two will lock horns once again on Wednesday night when Liverpool entertain Manchester City in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final, and yet gain the spotlight will be on the two managers as they try to out-think the other in the ultimate tactical battle.
The match could not be better poised, with City winning the first meeting between the sides 5-0 in September (Liverpool had Sadio Mane sent off in the first half, remember) before the Reds had their revenge with a 4-3 win at Anfield in the reverse fixture.
So how will Wednesday’s match pan out….and will Klopp have his way with Pep once more?
For the brilliance of Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva, and the goalscoring exploits of Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino, you’d think it’s likely that this match will be decided by the actions of those posted in wide areas.
Liverpool will be without Joe Gomez, which means that Trent Alexander-Arnold will deputise at right back. He will be tasked with stopping Leroy Sane, he of 13 goals and as many assists this term, and you do worry for the England youngster. He was ripped to shreds by Marcus Rashford in his side’s defeat to Manchester United, where he was arguably culpable for both his opponent’s goals, and Sane will not make life any easier for the full back.
The key will be for him to sit narrow next to his central defender, and not become dragged out into wider areas. As soon as he is disconnected from Virgil van Dijk or Dejan Lovren, gaps will emerge for the likes of Silva, De Bruyne and Aguero/Gabriel to exploit. If Alexander-Arnold stays narrow, the only space available to City will be in wide areas; and crosses into the box won’t hurt Liverpool.
At the other end of the pitch, another key battle will be between Mo Salah and the City player assigned with the job of marking him. On Saturday against Everton, Pep Guardiola tried Aymeric Laporte in the role, and the central defender acclimatised well to life in a wider area. But the Spaniard picked up a foot injury, and you wonder if Pep might instead be tempted to go with Danilo on Wednesday.
The reason is simple: Salah cuts in from the Liverpool right onto his favoured left foot, and Danilo – as a naturally right-footed player – is better suited to track the Egyptian when he moves inside. Also, you can expect Fernandinho, City’s powerful defensive midfielder, to be tasked with sitting deep and slightly left-ish to offer an obstacle for Salah’s internal forays.
Of course, football is much more nuanced than that, and if it was simple to stop Sane and Salah then City and Liverpool wouldn’t have demolished opponents left, right and centre this term!
Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law
One of the most tantalising aspects of this match is that neither team will change their usual approach to try and stifle the other; hence why this should be such an eye-catching watch.
Manchester City will do what they do best: get hold of the ball, pass it around and create opportunities in wide areas (Sane and Sterling) and through the middle (De Bruyne and Silva). It’s hard to stop, as most of their opponents will testify, and lest we forget that Liverpool have conceded eight goals against City in just 180 minutes this term.
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) 23 October 2018
The Reds have a not-so secret weapon, and that’s their ability to counter-attack at breakneck speed. Their form away from home has been scintillating this season, and that’s because they are able to defend in numbers before springing clear through Salah, Mane and Firmino. The coming of age of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield adds a key link between deep areas and the attack too.
So without being football geniuses, we know how this game will pan out. Manchester City will dominate the possession stats, and Liverpool won’t be bothered one bit by that. They will defend from a solid base before countering at a frightful pace.
Goals, Goals, Goals
These are two of the best attacking line-ups in the land if not Europe, and as such we would envisage goals naturally following; even taking into account the pressure and fear that comes with playing in such a high-profile encounter.
The loss of Joel Matip for Liverpool is a huge blow. The central defender is expected to miss the rest of the season with a thigh injury, and his natural replacement – Dejan Lovren – is a walking disaster. Aguero and co could have a field day against the Croat.
But Manchester City aren’t absolutely bulletproof, and in the 3-4 defeat to the Reds in January they showed how vulnerable they were to pace and runners coming at them from all angles.
City will play like City….and Klopp will know that his side’s best chance of getting the result they want is to attack with gay abandon. It sets up a thrilling encounter with goals (almost) guaranteed!