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Thursday 13 December 2018

Liverpool have already shown how to close off City threat

GAME FOR A LAUGH: (l-r) Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah are pictured in training ahead of tonight’s Champions League quarter-final second leg clash with Manchester City. Photo: Reuters
GAME FOR A LAUGH: (l-r) Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah are pictured in training ahead of tonight’s Champions League quarter-final second leg clash with Manchester City. Photo: Reuters

If Liverpool need an example of how they should play in tonight's Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City, they merely need to replay the tape of their second half performance in the first leg last Wednesday.

After blowing City away with a sensational half an hour of football in front of a crowd that clearly unsettled Pep Guardiola's side on one of those epic Anfield nights, Klopp's side showed a side to their make-up that didn't exist not so long ago.

They didn't park the bus or just hang on and hope they survived. Instead, they plotted a route to the end of that game and did so with a maturity that bodes very well for them both in this game this evening and moving forward.

We have seen this Liverpool side collapse over the last couple of years and concede a rush of goals in quick succession.

At moments like that, you need game management skills to kick in and to appreciate what is needed to take the sting out of a game. Until recently, Liverpool had not shown that enough under Klopp.

EURO MISSION, PART TWO: The Liverpool squad trains at Melwood ahead of tonight’s clash with Manchester City. Photo: PA
EURO MISSION, PART TWO: The Liverpool squad trains at Melwood ahead of tonight’s clash with Manchester City. Photo: PA

They have tended to have one mode; go forward in thrilling fashion and try to outscore the opposition and more often than not, it has worked.

Boast

Yet the top teams have other sides to their game. They boast an ability to grind out results when they going gets tough and we have seen that more and more from Liverpool in recent weeks.

The battling win at Crystal Palace last month was an example of how Liverpool are finding ways to win matches when they are not at their best and while all the headlines last Wednesday surrounded the three goals Klopp's side scored against City, the clean sheet was just as important.

The Liverpool of a year ago would probably have come out after the break and gone for more goals against City. They'd have thrown everything at their opponents in the belief that they could beat them by five or six.

That would have been a dangerous policy as a couple of City away goals would have changed the complexion of this tie in an instant, but Liverpool have a steel to them now that allows them to stand firm when needed.

With Virgil van Dijk acting as a real leader in the heart of the Liverpool defence now, they have the option to change the direction of a game and play with a little less risk.

Klopp will never follow Jose Mourinho's policy of sticking ten men behind the ball, stopping his full-backs from crossing the half-way line and playing for a draw.

That is just not the way he does things and even with a 3-0 first leg advantage, I don't expect Liverpool to play defensively at the Etihad Stadium.

What they can do is deploy some sensible tactics, maybe tone down their attacking ambition a little and find a way to get through a game that could turn very tricky for Liverpool if City score first.

Liverpool need to make sure they don't allow City to build up a head of steam tonight. They need to break the game up, look at ways to ensure the home side are not given a sniff. I have been in a position as a manager when you are 3-0 down and it can be difficult to get your head right and believe you can win, but it has happened in the past and Liverpool have to be wary of it again.

During my time as Tranmere manager, I remember my side trailing 3-0 at half-time in an FA Cup match against Southampton and their bench - led by manager Glenn Hoddle and his assistant John Gorman - were high fiving each other and thinking the tie was over.

Their arrogance wound us up and we stormed back to win 4-3 to set up a quarter-final against Liverpool. It can happen and especially against a City side that have so much brilliant attacking firepower.

I only need to mention Istanbul in 2005 and that incredible Champions League final comeback win for Liverpool against AC Milan to remind you how a 3-0 lead can evaporate in the space of 10 or 15 minutes and Liverpool have to be ready to fend off opponents who will be eager to make a big statement.

City will be wounded after their defeat at Anfield last week and the amazing loss against Manchester United on Saturday, but I am confident Klopp's team can get over the line from this position.

You fancy this Liverpool team to create chances and score goals in every game they play and one goal at the Etihad will leave City needing five to go through and I don't see that happening.

Liverpool are a top side now and I don't see them losing 4-0 against anyone, with the muted atmosphere at the Etihad Stadium playing into the hands of Klopp and his players as well.

No disrespect to City fans, but their stadium is like a library compared to what we all experienced at Anfield in the first leg of this quarter-final and Liverpool will have no fear going there in front of fans that never seem too bothered about European matches.

Real Madrid look to be emerging as the favourites to win the Champions League again as they are coming to the boil just at the right moment, but Liverpool can beat anyone on their day and Klopp's men have to believe they can create a fresh chapter of European history for this great club in the next few weeks.

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