When five English clubs entered this season’s Champions League group stages, it was natural to think about how the English sides are making a comeback on the premier European stage. However, here we are at the quarter-final stage and just two of those five have made it this far. Only one of these two will make it to the semi-finals, as Liverpool and Manchester City go head-to-head in the first leg of the quarterfinal on Wednesday night at Anfield.
This is the tenth time in this history that two English clubs will face each other in a Champions League knock-out tie and six of those ten will have featured Liverpool. That says a lot about Liverpool’s historic dominance in this tournament. But those are tales of yester-years. Liverpool have not reached the quarter-final stage since the 2008-09 season and have not reached the semis since 2007-08. According to FiveThirtyEight.com, they have a 42% chance of making the penultimate stage this time. The preparation has not been ideal, as they had to overcome indifferent form at Selhurst Park on Saturday to come from behind and win 1-2 against Crystal Palace. If they wish to go past Manchester City over these two legs, they must perform better – as they have always done at Anfield, especially against City. All sorts of historical runs are in their favor – Pep Guardiola has lost six games to sides led by Jurgen Klopp, the Blues have won only once in 37 years at Anfield, and Liverpool are the top scorers in Champions League this season. However, come Wednesday night, the Reds will have to be completely switched on as City can make them pay otherwise.
Manchester City do not have the history that Liverpool have in this competition. In fact, this is just their second appearance at the quarter-finals stage. But they are a team that has all but won the Premier League title and that too at a canter. In Pep Guardiola, they have a coach who has won the Champions League before. They have also scored eight goals in two matches against Liverpool this season. City’s preparation for Wednesday’s game was truer to the script as they visited Merseyside and returned home triumphant, beating Everton 1-3 on Saturday. Manchester City have had an amazing domestic season and are considered third favourites to win the Champions League behind Barcelona and Bayern Munich – both Pep’s old clubs.
- Liverpool have played Manchester City 178 times in all competitions so far, winning 87, drawing 46 and losing 45 times. However, the two sides will meet for the first time in European competition on Wednesday night.
- Both the teams are in great form going into this tie. Liverpool have kept a clean sheet in their last three home matches, while Manchester City have kept a clean sheet in three of their last four away matches. However, both these runs could be in danger as these two sides have scored 12 goals in their last two league encounters, at a conversion rate of 26% goals per shot attempt.
- Including qualifiers, this will be Liverpool’s 11th Champions League match this season. They are unbeaten in the previous 10 (W6, D4). They have also been unbeaten at home in Europe since losing 0-3 to Real Madrid in October 2014. The run has been on for 14 European games (W9 D5).
- Of the eight remaining sides in the Champions League, Liverpool (25y 311d) and Manchester City (26y 134d) have had the youngest average starting XIs in the competition this season.
For Liverpool to win this season, generally Mohamed Salah is considered the key. However, in Europe, Salah’s fellow-attacker Roberto Firmino has also been extremely rampant. The Brazilian has been involved in 10 goals (7 scored, 3 assisted) in the Champions League this season. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has been involved in more (14) this season so far. In Europe this season, Firmino has been scoring or assisting a goal every 64 minutes. Firmino has also scored thrice and assisted four goals in seven appearances against City so far. So, while most opponents will focus more on Salah, Firmino should be able to use it to his advantage and find a way to score or create goals.
Sergio Aguero did not feature against Everton due to an injury but is expected to return against Liverpool. The Argentinian has scored six and assisted three goals in 18 appearances against Liverpool so far. Further, he is in the hunt for his 200th goal for Manchester City. He has also scored in all four of his away appearances in the Champions League this season. No player has scored in five away Champions League appearances for an English side. If Aguero can score his first European goal against the Reds on Wednesday, he will get his side that bit closer to the semi-finals.
For Liverpool, Adam Lallana is ruled out after he pulled his hamstring against Crystal Palace on Saturday. Joe Gomez is also likely to stay out of the side due to the injury he suffered during the international break. Nathaniel Clyne may not have regained complete fitness but can expect to be on the bench at least. Emre Can as well is doubtful due to his back injury. Alberto Moreno, if selected, and his captain Jordan Henderson will need to be cautious on Wednesday, as one more booking will lead to a one-game ban for both of them.
Aguero sat out against Everton due to a knee injury but is expected to start against Liverpool. Aymeric Laporte suffered a foot injury on Saturday, but he is also likely to back in the starting XI. However, John Stones might still not be fit to play. Danilo, Gundogan, and Fernandinho are one booking away from a one-match ban too.
Beating Liverpool at Anfield is extremely difficult. Manchester City has not found it easy even when the fortress of Anfield was a bit shaken before Jurgen Klopp again turned it into a formidable bastion. As, Borussia Dortmund found out two seasons back, on European nights, Anfield is abuzz with a different kind of energy – perhaps the kind that Manchester City have confessed to being scared of. However, City themselves are no mugs and are the most difficult opponent that the Reds have faced so far in Europe this season. I do not expect Liverpool to lose to City but do expect City to carry an away goal or two to the second leg at Etihad, making their progress to semis that bit smoother. We can expect a score draw in this first leg.
Liverpool 2 – 2 Manchester City