The eyes of Europe will be on the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday as Manchester City face an uphill battle to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League. It was always going to be a difficult tie against Liverpool, who were the only team to beat Pep Guardiola’s side in the Premier League prior to the draw being made. The Reds delivered a perfect performance in the first-leg to take a 3-0. Their attack was incredible, but their defence was arguably more impressive considering the criticism it has faced this season.
Manchester City have been the standout team in England this season, but it would appear that fatigue has started to play a part over the past seven days. They have lost back-to-back matches for the first time this season and the manner of the defeats will disappoint Guardiola. In the first leg against Liverpool, they were toothless and didn’t have a single shot on target. They followed that up with an awful collapse at home against local rivals Manchester United. It would be remiss to rule them out of the tie, but they will need to be at their best to progress.
Liverpool are the one English club that have become intrinsically linked with success in Europe and their performance in the first leg shouldn’t have been a surprise considering the club’s DNA. The atmosphere at Anfield on European nights is intimidating to opposing teams and it certainly had an effect last week. It will now be up to their players to deliver a better away performance to confirm their place in the next round. If they score an away goal, it will make it tricky for Manchester City and it would be expected that Jurgen Klopp sets up to get one.
Manchester City have scored four or more goals on 12 occasions this season across all competitions.
Only four teams have stopped Liverpool scoring away from home this season. Manchester City were one of those.
Pep Guardiola will be relieved that he can call on Sergio Aguero for the second leg. He is the most natural goal-scorer in the Manchester City squad and could have a huge part to play on Tuesday night. Throughout his time in England, he has scored six times against Liverpool and that will give him confidence that he can trouble the scorers this week. His record in the Champions League has been okay without being spectacular. The 29-year-old has four goals and one assist in six matches this season. Liverpool conceded five times in the corresponding league fixture this season and the Argentine international got the opening goal on that day. It is important that the home side take an early lead and they will be looking at their main striker to deliver that.
Liverpool may be in the driving seat, but they will come under pressure on Tuesday and have to play on the back foot for a lot of the game. They will have chances on the counter-attack and they will be looking to take them, but they must keep City’s chances to a minimum at the other end of the pitch. The player that will be responsible for that is Virgil van Dijk. It is tough to sign a player in January to make an immediate impact, but the Dutchman has managed to do that. The Reds have become a lot tougher to break down and his influence has been key to that. In the air, he is dominant, while his leadership and composure have had a positive effect on those around him. If he has a good game at the Etihad Stadium, his team are likely to progress.
Sergio Aguero is likely to come into the starting eleven after making a return at the weekend. Danilo is in contention to start after Aymeric Laporte failed to impress in the first-leg. Raheem Sterling will also be hoping to be in the starting eleven.
Mohamed Salah is in a battle to be fit after missing out of the Merseyside derby. Emre Can is unlikely to feature as he continues to recover from his injury problems. Jordan Henderson is suspended due to his booking in the first leg. This means that Gini Wijnaldum, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are likely to start in central midfield.
Despite the convincing victory in the first leg by Liverpool, this tie remains open and both teams will be confident of making it to the next round. The problem for Manchester City is that they have left themselves with no margin for error. They need to keep a clean sheet and score at least three goals. A lot will depend on the fitness of Salah as it would be a huge mental boost for the home side if the Egyptian was to miss out. Due to their performances over the past week, it is difficult to see City not conceding on Tuesday, but I do expect to see a fightback of sorts. Unfortunately for them, it is unlikely to be enough to progress.
Manchester City 3-1 Liverpool