Liverpool served up a classic Champions League performance on Wednesday evening, the Reds blitzed runaway Premier League leaders, Manchester City, by scoring three goals in the first half en route to a 3-0 victory.
Managing to keep a clean sheet, preventing the visitors from claiming a priceless away goal, was as impressive as their first half burst. It was the complete performance from Jurgen Klopp’s charges from start to finish, yet Pep Guardiola appeared to have taken no notice of the lessons from his previous visit to Anfield this season.
It has been billed as arrogance from the Spanish coach, yet he arrived on Merseyside on Tuesday evening with the clear intention of playing his own natural game and looking to sweep Liverpool aside as they have the rest of the English top flight this term. Unfortunately for Guardiola, the Reds are the one team who have given Manchester City consistent problems this season.
People may point towards City’s 5-0 victory over their Merseyside rivals early on in the season, but that match was going completely in Liverpool’s favour until Sadio Mane was sent off. Klopp’s style is an incredibly effective one, their direct way of playing fully utilises their quick forward players, the key is getting the ball to them as efficiently as possible.
Furthermore, Liverpool’s high press makes it difficult for opponents to build out from the back, especially in such an atmosphere as there was at Anfield on Wednesday. Any fears that the main-stand redevelopment may have put a dampener on European nights at the famous stadium were quickly dispelled.
In the 4-3 victory over the Blues in the league, Liverpool put Manchester City under tremendous pressure with their pressing style and forced uncharacteristic mistakes. You would have thought the former Barcelona coach would have come up with a game-plan to combat that and ensure his team weren’t blown away in the first leg.
Yet, as early as the 12th minute, Kyle Walker was pressured inside his own penalty area which handed Mohamed Salah a golden opportunity to open the scoring. From there the Premier League champions elect simply collapsed.
Guardiola has made clear before that he is committed to his style of play over results, even in the immediate build-up to Wednesday’s match he admitted that Liverpool were the worst possible opponents for his side.
“I know that the way we play is perfect for Liverpool,” he explained in his pre-match press conference.
The sheer fact that the Spaniard knew ahead of time his style would suit the opposition and he then did nothing about it is mind-boggling.
It’s understandable that Guardiola’s style has taken the club to previously unimaginable heights in the Premier League, but in Champions League football, you must be humble enough to try and stay in a tie away from home. It’s worth noting that the 47-year-old has never won the Champions League as a coach without Lionel Messi.
His greatest failures in the competition have come as Bayern Munich and Manchester City manager, and on each occasion it has been down to not adapting to the strengths of the opponent. Whilst Jose Mourinho is rightly criticised at times, this is a skill he has perfected over the years, even if his team faltered against Sevilla in the previous round.
The fact that Manchester City can be fairly considered as the best team in Europe and then lose 3-0 to a team that has already beaten them this season has to be a concern moving forward, of course Liverpool have a uniquely gifted front line, but they’ve set the blueprint for how to cause the Blues problems.
There is every chance that Manchester City can take advantage of Liverpool’s own frailties in defence in the second leg and overturn the deficit, but the position they find themselves in was avoidable.
Manchester United have shown how to deal with Liverpool this season, out of a possible six the Merseyside club have taken just one point from their rivals. To negate Liverpool’s pressing game, United elected to play in a direct style, getting the ball to Marcus Rashford as quickly as possible and thus putting a fragile defence under pressure.
When Manchester City attempted to hold the ball for long periods on Wednesday, Liverpool simply pressed them and won the ball back. Klopp’s charges forced mistakes and they have the attacking talent to punish teams in those situations.
You’d imagine both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich would have the nous to negate these periods of pressing, be that by slowing the tempo of the match right down and looking for constant stoppages or playing a more direct style for periods in a match.
Manchester City simply weren’t willing to do this and they paid the price.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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