Liverpool crushed Manchester City 3-0 in the Champions League quarter-final first leg on Wednesday.
Here are three things we learned from a Liverpool perspective.
STYLES MAKE MATCHES
Pep Guardiola admitted in the midweek build-up that Man City’s style make them a “perfect opponent” for Liverpool.
Those words were fortified on Wednesday. Jurgen Klopp secured his seventh victory in 13 clashes with Guardiola – the most of any manager the Catalan has faced – and it was evidenced once more that he has the blueprint for victory against the City boss.
No other team in the world can attack space quite in the way Liverpool do, the unsteady visitors were simply overwhelmed and overloaded in the first 30 minutes.
Liverpool’s timing of the press was perfect, snapping into a compact 4-3-3 shape and pocketing the ball when City fell into their trap. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne both gave the ball away frequently and it left City painfully exposed.
The Reds found gaps and exploited it, countering with expert speed for Mohamed Salah to open the scoring, pressing high up the pitch to feed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for his rocket and then Sadio Mane nipping in between Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho to head home.
The old boxing cliche determines styles make fights, and that translates whenever Guardiola and Klopp face off – more often than not it’s the German who delivers a knockout blow.
Now, they go to the Etihad Stadium seeking the coup de grace.
Pitting a midfield three containing a 32-year-old James Milner, an Arsenal failure in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and an apparently “limited” Jordan Henderson against the guile and panache of City’s creative cognition David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne appeared unsettling on paper.
Yet, to a man all three were tremendous. Milner looked terribly off the pace when he entered from the bench in January’s 4-3 win after a Liverpool midfield consisting of Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can pressed City into submission.
Here, Milner was a machine, charging around the pitch to win the ball back with the type of dogged determination of a man robbed of his wallet.
His first-half stats read: 100 percent aerial duels won, 45 touches, 30 passes, five tackles won, two interceptions, one chance created and an eighth Champions League assist of the season – the most in the competition.
Henderson, too, was a colossus. The criticism he receives verges on the bizarre sometimes but he suffocated De Bruyne, was positionally excellent and made the midfield tick.
The captain’s booking means he will be suspended for the second leg and will be missed dearly.
Finally, there is Oxlade-Chamberlain who detonated a rocket to blast Ederson’s net and his detractors.
The strike was so sweetly struck the ball barely moved in flight. A goal, an assist and defensive solidity, Klopp couldn’t have asked for a better performance from his midfield.
SALAH INJURY A CONCERN
Whether it was a precautionary measure remains to be seen but the sight of Mohamed Salah trudging off down the tunnel will surely worry Liverpool supporters.
Once again he was City’s tormentor, opening the scoring with consummate ease amid the chaos. But it’s not just his sharpshooting which is so crucial to the Reds, as was evidenced when he went off.
The Reds lost their rhythm and chief outlet on the counter while defensively they dropped further and further back onto the edge of their own box without his presence in the press.
The hosts formation switched from 4-3-3 and went 4-5-1 when he exited with a groin complaint and Klopp will hope the Egyptian is fit for the second leg to avoid a repeat of the second 45.
Liverpool produced a scintillating first-half display to take a 3-0 lead against Manchester City in their Champions League quarter-final tie.
Mohamed Salah’s stunning form continued, as he netted his 38th goal of the season following a quick break from the Reds that left City chasing shadows.
Champions League holders Real Madrid all but wrapped up a spot in this year’s semi-finals as Cristiano Ronaldo scored a stunning double in a 3-0 win at Juventus, while Bayern Munich took control of their tie with Sevilla.
Here are five things we learned from Tuesday’s quarter-final, first legs:
ZIDANE CAN RELY ON FAMILIAR FACES
Despite the excellent individual performances of Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez in Real’s last-16, second-leg win at Paris Saint-Germain, Zinedine Zidane welcomed back Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as he named the same starting XI that beat Juventus in last season’s final. His experienced side showed plenty of nous in soaking up a prolonged period of Juve pressure after Ronaldo’s early goal, before ruthlessly going for the kill after Paulo Dybala‘s red card.
Modric and Kroos dominated midfield, but it was Ronaldo who proved he is still the main man for Real as he bids for a fifth Champions League winner’s medal. The 33-year-old has now scored in a record 10 consecutive Champions League matches.
BUFFON SICK OF FACING RONALDO
Gianluigi Buffon must be sick of the sight of Ronaldo, after the veteran Juventus goalkeeper saw his dreams of a first Champions League crown ended yet again by the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. The Portuguese star has now scored in his last six matches against Buffon’s Juve, netting nine goals in total, including two in last year’s final in Cardiff.
The 40-year-old Buffon looks destined never to win the European Cup.
BALE SLIPPING DOWN REAL PECKING ORDER
Gareth Bale had to sit and watch his team-mates cruise towards the semi-finals from the bench after again being left out by Zidane. The Welshman has dropped a long way down the pecking order at the Santiago Bernabeu after struggling with injuries over the last two years, a fact shown by the fact he was not even called into action with the team 3-0 up against 10 men.
Zidane instead preferred to send on Asensio, Vazquez and Mateo Kovacic in the second half, despite Bale having scored twice against Las Palmas at the weekend.
BAYERN END SPANISH CURSE
Bayern Munich ended a run of five straight Champions League defeats in Spain as they look to shake off recent exits to Real, Atlético Madrid and Barcelona. History appeared to be repeating itself as Sevilla took a deserved first-half lead, but Bayern fought back with the aid of two lucky deflections.
Sevilla are not at the same level as Bayern’s recent conquerors though, and Jupp Heynckes – who was in charge when the Bavarians last lifted the trophy in 2013 – will know his team still have to do more later in the competition.
SEVILLA WASTEFUL IN FRONT OF GOAL
Sevilla’s struggles for much of the season have come in the attacking third of the pitch, and their forwards again had to shoulder plenty of the blame for the eventual loss on Tuesday. Pablo Sarabia took the opener well, but had already earlier squandered a gilt-edged chance when he fired wide with the goal gaping.
Wissam Ben Yedder started after his match-winning brace against Manchester United in the last 16, but he had a quiet game and was replaced by Luis Muriel. Substitute Sandro Ramirez had a late chance to equalise, but the Everton loanee has still only scored once in 23 outings this season.