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Monday 25 June 2018

Pool's weak chin could be the crucial factor

Man of the moment: Mohamed Salah is the talisman for Liverpool this season
Man of the moment: Mohamed Salah is the talisman for Liverpool this season
Last line: Goalkeeper Ederson has anchored a mean Manchester City defence this season

If you're looking for a good image to describe the prospect we have at Anfield tonight, think about two heavyweight boxers, both aggressive and stylish but one with a weak chin.

Pep Guardiola highlighted Liverpool's dynamic threesome, Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firminio, and labelled them as "unstoppable", but I would be more confident about City's defence now than at any time in the last few seasons.

Take a glance at the Premier League table and you'll see that the one doubt I had about City this season has been dealt with very effectively.

Guardiola's defence is the meanest in the top division in England and I would not have predicted that in early August.

I have no doubt that a big part of that story is the fact that City overwhelm teams to such an extent that they don't have to defend. When they are constantly attacking, constantly probing and the ball is peppering the opposition penalty area, defending becomes easy.

Balanced

That said, a balanced team must always be ready for the moment when the tide turns and I think City are much better equipped for that job than they were at the end of last season or even at the end of 2017.

Ederson has made a big difference between the posts, but the biggest change of all came when Guardiola abandoned his ill-conceived experiment with full-backs in midfield and removed the pressure on his goalkeeper to behave like a centre-half.

Guardiola improved his defence by buying in better players and most importantly, by giving Vincent Kompany the space he needed to get back on track after a bad run of injuries.

I cannot say the same for Jurgen Klopp.

His defence is the same now as it was two and half seasons ago when he joined the club and even though he spent a lot of money on Virgil van Dijk, his team will always be prone to random bad performances.

I've seen Liverpool do a decent defensive job in some games this season, but I'm always expecting something to go wrong and it usually happens against weaker teams.

This simply should not happen in a well-balanced team and I've explained on many occasions this season and last why it does and why Klopp will never change.

He is a one-trick pony with a very good trick, which he has refined with these players to the point where they can blow opposition defences away.

But he doesn't understand defending well enough to achieve the balance needed to be consistent.

Liverpool have the worst defensive record in the top four by some margin. They are averaging slightly more than a goal conceded a game and that's not good enough to challenge for the title.

In the two games against City in the league, they conceded a grand total of eight goals, including five without reply on a majestic day for Guardiola at the Etihad back in September.

Fast forward to January and Liverpool are 4-1 up at Anfield and on the way to a very satisfying win when they let in two late goals and almost a third. You just never know with Klopp's team and that's why I favour City to emerge from the two legs of this Champions League quarter-final as the winner.

This is a big seven days for Guardiola and City. They can win the Premier League by beating Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday and nothing would be sweeter for their fans than that.

As for the Kop, I reckon they are happy with Klopp and happy with the entertainment his team provides every week.

I'm sure they would like to see better defending but Klopp's way is undeniably attractive when it's working properly. I think Liverpool fans saw what was possible under Brendan Rodgers after years of stagnation and are happy to give the German their full backing.

The Kop have always been realistic. They understand that Guardiola has produced a team of great quality and a new standard to strive for but they are happy to be in there trading blows with them at the business end of the Champions League.

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