On Tuesday night, Liverpool defeated Manchester City 2-1 to progress to the semi-finals of the Champions League. It ended 5-1 on aggregate and Jurgen Klopp got another win against Pep Guardiola – he now has more than any other manager against the Spaniard.
On what was a special night of Champions League football – Roma also produced a special performance to beat Barcelona 3-0 – this was a coming of age performance for Klopp’s Liverpool.
When Manchester City – who had sprung surprises with an unusual formation – scored within one minute and 56 seconds, it looked as though it would be a long night for Klopp’s Reds. What came in the first-half was an onslaught of pressure from Manchester City.
Liverpool were camped deep in their half and struggled to break out. The front-three of Liverpool, who have been so deadly this season, tried to press the City back three, but with so many midfielders available, the City defenders easily bypassed the press.
The Reds also failed to string a productive number of passes together, with Loris Karius attempting more passes than any other Liverpool player in the first half (19).
Coming out on top
While Manchester City put Liverpool under immense pressure, the away team managed to keep them at bay. Despite the early goal, Manchester City failed to put real pressure on Loris Karius’ goal. Despite 20 shots throughout the game, only three shots were on target.
“Manchester City huffed and puffed, without really troubling the Liverpool ‘keeper” – Rio Ferdinand on BT Sport.
This was largely down to the compactness and bravery of the players in front of Karis; James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gini Wijnaldum were particularly effective in blocking City’s efforts.
The Reds got a slice of luck – Leroy Sane’s late first-half goal should’ve stood – but they deserve huge credit for their defensive maturity.
What has often held Liverpool back, and has been the major criticism from fans and pundits alike, has been Liverpool’s frailty at the back. As emphatic as they have been going forward – their haul of 33 goals in the tournament this season is the most ever by an English side – their lack of defensive security has cost them.
The addition of Virgil van Dijk for £75million in January has made a huge difference. Not only has the Dutchman been exceptional himself, he has brought out the best in those around him. Klopp also deserves huge credit for his tactical tweaks that have seen the Reds sit deeper and lessen the intensity of their high-press.
Liverpool coming of age
For every great side, there are certain moments – certain games – that confirm their place as a top side. This feels like that moment for Liverpool.
There’s no doubt that the first-leg showed their high-intensity, all-out-attacking style, but we’ve come to expect that from Klopp’s side. Showing their defensive power and discipline on the biggest stage shows that Liverpool are ready to go to the next level. This performance – which secured their 10th appearance in the semi-finals of Europe’s top competition – was a coming of age one for Klopp’s Reds.