Sunday 24 February 2019

Clever Klopp exposes Pep's big weakness

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola

Jurgen Klopp earned the big, beaming grin he wore after a great night for Liverpool at the Etihad. In the battle of wits with Pep Guardiola, he won hands down.

Now Liverpool march on to the Champions League semi-finals and with the kind of momentum you get from beating a local rival at this point in the competition.

City will take this defeat hard. They were hyped up as a team for the ages and now must take a long look in the mirror. They have, of course, the consolation of the Premier League title to come.

This is three defeats in big games in a row for Guardiola and if there is a question about his team, it is the same one everyone highlighted last season and in the early part of this campaign.

Can they defend when the pressure comes on in the biggest competition in Europe and the evidence is clear about that. The answer is no.

Liverpool dominated three of the four halves of football we saw and for me, the star of the show over the two games was James Milner who had another tremendous performance when Liverpool needed him most.

This was a tie which flipped and flopped but when it came to the crunch, it was Liverpool's remarkable 45 minutes at Anfield and the collapse of City's big names in the same spell which proved the difference.

City started well at Anfield but melted in front of Liverpool's dynamic front foot approach. This time the roles were completely reversed.

I wondered after the first game whether Klopp's visibly more defensive set-up in the second-half hinted at a shift towards a greater balance in his approach but within three minutes of this one, Jesus made that question irrelevant.

His goal may have been helped by a foul on Virgil van Dyke in the build-up but it rocked Liverpool back on their heels and whether Klopp intended it or not, his players settled in very nervously for a night under the cosh.

How they survived until half-time was a minor miracle. Bernardo Silva hit the post and Leroy Sane had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside .

Liverpool could hardly get out of their half. In fact, their best moment came just before half-time when Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, hardly noticeable in the game up to that point, drove at the City defence and almost got in.

Perhaps that was the hint Liverpool needed to recover their confidence and whatever Klopp said to his team at half-time, there was another distinct shift which became obvious as soon as the second-half started.

Liverpool found some space, some passes and the thing they needed most. Who else but Mo Salah to deliver the away goal which took the tie out of City's reach?

When Firminho added a second, Guardiola's face fell but he had no excuses. His team defended badly.

What is surprising is the fact that form leading up to this hat-trick of huge games was very good at the back and City will end the Premier League as champions and with the meanest defensive record of them all.

But a defence which is good enough to win the Premier League is clearly not good enough for the Champions League and he must address this urgently.

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