Jurgen Klopp insists Man City win and group stage exploits prove Liverpool can compete in Champions League

Carl Markham 14/02/2018
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Jurgen Klopp insists Liverpool can compete with Europe’s best even if no-one is giving his side much of a chance in the Champions League.

Wednesday’s last-16 first leg tie in Porto is the Reds’ first in the knockout stage of Europe’s elite club competition since 2009.

But despite having comfortably won their group with three wins and three draws, scoring 23 goals – a record for an English club – doubts persist about their ability to go deep into the competition.

However, Klopp points to last month’s thrilling 4-3 win over runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City as all the evidence he needs to believe in their quality.

“I know it already we can compete with them, I don’t have to look at them,” Klopp said.

“I think probably the strongest football team in this moment in Europe is Manchester City and we played them twice already at the highest level (they lost the first encounter 5-0 after having Sadio Mane sent off in the first half).

“The Premier League is a little different but if we meet them (City) then we could beat them. That is how it is. But it is not important right now. We are in Porto and that is the only thing.

“We can make one mistake, that is how it is in life. And of course we as a team we will never do that.”

The team have already overcome one significant hurdle in reaching the knockout phase for the first time in nine years.

Roberto Firmino has stepped up in the absence of Philippe Coutinho.

Roberto Firmino has stepped up in the absence of Philippe Coutinho.

And they did it in style with two 7-0 victories helping them rack up the second-highest tally of group game goals in the history of the competition behind Paris Saint-Germain, who scored 25 this season.

“Yes the last-16 in the Champions League is quite a message already,” he said. “In other competitions it doesn’t sound too good but here, it is already a message.

“But now we have to show that we are not only part of the competition, we are quite ambitious. That is how it is and we have to take it seriously.”

Critics predicted January’s £142million sale of Philippe Coutinho would hit Liverpool hard but, in light of the goalscoring exploits of Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, it has not yet had a detrimental effect.

The pair have 11 Champions League goals between them – only PSG’s Edinson Cavani and Neymar have scored more – and only Real Madrid’s Ronaldo (nine) scored more than Firmino’s six in the group stage.

“We qualified for the Champions League without Phil, he was not involved in either of the Hoffenheim games,” Klopp said.

“I don’t think he (Firmino) has stepped up but maybe it is more obvious because his situations are not overshadowed by Phil Coutinho’s situations. That’s how it is. That is all.

“He doesn’t always have to be the stand-out player. As often as he can be, that’s good.

“I don’t know what other people think about Roberto Firmino – I can imagine a bit because you ask me about it – (but) people with a football brain judge him right.”

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Mauricio Pochettino hails Tottenham after "dominating" Juventus for 83 minutes

Tom Allnutt 14/02/2018
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Christian Eriksen was the star of the show for Tottenham.

Mauricio Pochettino felt Tottenham dominated Juventus for 83 minutes after his side came from two goals down to snatch a draw in the Champions League last 16.

Spurs made a nightmare start in Turin as Gonzalo Higuain scored twice in the first nine minutes, the latter a penalty, to put Juventus in charge.

But Harry Kane pulled a goal back and Higuain missed a second penalty, before Christian Eriksen’s free-kick ensured a pulsating contest finished 2-2.

Between their dreadful opening, and a moment of madness from Serge Aurier to concede the second spot-kick just before half-time, Tottenham were by far the better team at the Allianz Stadium and a draw was no less than they deserved.

“Only seven minutes were difficult to handle,” Pochettino said. “For 83 minutes we dominated Juventus and that is a thing to praise. Not many teams come here and dominate Juventus.”

Juve had conceded only once in their previous 16 games and the club have reached the Champions League final twice in the last three seasons. But this was a performance that showed Tottenham have not only the talent, but the strength of character to trouble Europe’s elite.

Getting Higgy with it: Gonzalo Higuain put Juve 2-0 up in Turin.

Getting Higgy with it: Gonzalo Higuain put Juve 2-0 up in Turin.

Pochettino admitted he was fearing the worst after Higuain’s early double.

“My feeling was so bad,” Pochettino said. “You never hope that happens, to concede the (early) goal. Maybe it was offside, but I don’t want to complain.

“We start a little bit sloppy. We need to be more solid. Then we concede a penalty, 2-0 down after seven minutes against a great team like Juventus with experienced players.

“Then it was to start another game and the team started to show the performances of the last few weeks. I feel so proud.”

Kane notched his seventh goal of the tournament with a typically cool finish but it was the imperious Mousa Dembele and, in particular, Eriksen that were the stars of the show.

“Christian had an amazing game. He was outstanding,” Pochettino said.

“He was fantastic but Christian, in my three years and nine months, has always been important for us, always stepping up, growing up.

“He represents our philosophy. He is a player who links the team and today he was great. The team was great but he was fantastic.”

Tottenham will now take two away goals back to Wembley for the second leg next month and arguably stand as favourites to reach the quarter-finals.

In a passionate speech after the match, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri warned against an overly critical reaction.

“This really drives me nuts,” Allegri said. “The top priority of Juventus is (to win) the seventh league championships (in a row), which is a lot.

“We are making huge efforts and we are about to go through in the Coppa Italia, but if a draw like tonight you believe it could repress us that is something I don’t accept.

“We have a draw against Tottenham in the Champions League and it is like a big loss. It is not like this. Juventus has never been favourites in this tie. We had 50 per cent possibility before the match and we still have that after this match.”

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Pep Guardiola believes Man City have one foot in Champions League quarter-finals

Andy Hampson 14/02/2018
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Pep Guardiola felt his Manchester City side all but secured their place in the Champions League quarter-finals as they thrashed Basel 4-0 in Switzerland on Tuesday.

Ilkay Gundogan scored twice and there were also goals for Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva as the Premier League leaders produced yet another commanding display in what is proving a remarkable season.

The result means the second leg of the last-16 tie at the Etihad Stadium next month should be a formality for City.

Their boss Guardiola said: “It’s an amazing result for the last 16 of this competition.

“The Champions League is (about playing) 180 minutes but we are almost there. I’m not saying it’s done because in football anything can happen but it’s an amazing result.

“We could have been 2-0 down but then we were 0-2 up. We were clinical and I am delighted with the performance.

“We kept our level, we fought hard and created chances to score. They were four amazing goals. Overall I’m delighted.”

Sergio Aguero (l) scores a thumping third for Manchester City at Basel.

Sergio Aguero scores a thumping third for Manchester City at Basel.

Guardiola also paid tribute to Gundogan, who might even have claimed a hat-trick had Tomas Vaclik not saved from him in the closing stages.

Guardiola said: “He’s a guy with special qualities. He’s amazing with a good sense of goal.

“When I see him play I realise how we missed him last season. He is a special player with a lot of personality. He doesn’t feel pressure, he’s a top player.”

The emphatic nature of the victory means Guardiola may be able to rest players in the second leg but he is not looking that far ahead yet.

First City face Wigan in the FA Cup and Arsenal in the EFL Cup final, with tricky league games against the Gunners and Chelsea also coming before the Basel return fixture.

Guardiola said: “That’s so important but we have to be focused and it’s after Chelsea. It’s so important to focus on them and take another step in the Premier League.

“Vinny (Kompany) is back, Fabian (Delph) is back – a lot of players have come back from long-term injuries. That’s good for everyone and (Gabriel) Jesus and (Benjamin) Mendy are coming back. We’ll have almost the whole squad for this period when we will need everyone involved.”

Basel coach Raphael Wicky admitted his side were outplayed by a ruthless City side.

Wicky said: “They were very clinical, scoring three goals in the first half. We started well, we created chances and managed to win balls but, as I said yesterday, we needed a perfect night. We needed to take the opportunities and be clinical.

“But we conceded goals too easily and after we went 3-0 down I think the game was decided.”

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