Goalkeeper Loris Karius insists he is living the dream playing for Liverpool in a Champions League quarter-final.
He insists he returns to former club Manchester City – with a 3-0 lead from the first leg – with no anger at not getting a chance to play for their first team.
“It is nice to play in that stadium where you were for a couple of years and didn’t get a first-team appearance – at least I get to play now,” said the German, who spent two seasons at City between 2009 and 2011 as a teenager but only played for the under-18s and under-21s.
“I am happy I am a Liverpool player and that’s about it. There are no special feelings towards it, no anger.
“I am just happy I am playing in a Champions League quarter-final: it’s a dream and I’m living it with Liverpool. It is perfect for me and it will be nice to go back there.”
Asked how much City has changed since he was there Karius added: “I know about three people in the club: the kit man, two physios and Brian Kidd (assistant coach), that’s about it.
“The club moved forward really fast and then Pep Guardiola has changed a lot.
“It is going really well there but it is not for me to judge, just focus on Tuesday, but they played a really good season.”
For all the advances Guardiola has made in 18 months at City Karius believes Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is carving out his own path to success at Anfield.
“The manager is building his own thing here and he is doing really well with a lot of good stuff,” added the goalkeeper.
“You can really see over time he has been manager how we have progressed and become much stronger pretty much month by month.
“It is nice to be part of this journey and I don’t think it’s finished yet. It is really exciting and the manager changed a lot to the positive as well.”
Karius has kept six clean sheets in his last seven Champions League matches but knows the trip to the Etihad is likely to present the toughest challenge to his recent good record.
“It’s not going to be easy. Of course when we go into the game City will come at us from the first minute and try to get an early goal – that’s what I would say if I were their manager,” he said.
“We have to keep calm and try to score ourselves because then they need to score five and that’s not easy against us.
“I don’t think three will easy for them but we need to be ready and a goal is always a good idea.
“The whole team kept them out on Wednesday because the three up front were defending. That is the job again on Tuesday.
“You could see in the second half (of the first leg) we were tucked in and it was difficult to defend and they came through more than they did in the first half so I don’t think we should sit too far back.
“We should play our game like we did in the first leg because that is what made us so strong. We shouldn’t change from the first game.”
After a 4-1 victory at Camp Nou, Barcelona will look to wrap up the Champions League quarter-final tie with Roma on Tuesday night.
A recovery from the Italian outfit is unlikely but stranger things have happened in the knockout stages.
The remaining teams in the Champions League would’ve watched Barcelona’s 4-1 win at the Camp Nou back and thought – drawing them in the semis wouldn’t be the worst thing. It was a lacklustre performance with Messi well short of his best and Luis Suarez – though scoring his first goal in the competition this season – struggling as well.
Even the tactics were uninspiring with Ernesto Valverde choosing to play it safe, even deploying Sergio Roberto on the right side of midfield instead of the threatening Ousmane Dembele with Nelson Semedo starting at right-back.
Barca are starting to show signs of fatigue but the second leg is an opportunity to dispatch Roma in style and make a statement.
RAKITIC RENDERS RETURNING BUSQUETS A LUXURY
While it’s hard to picture Roma staging a comeback, exerting control over midfield could be key to extinguishing any hope of a revival.
In light of that, Sergio Busquets’ inclusion in the squad for the second leg is a welcome sight for Barcelona. The midfield maestro may only be along for the trip as an insurance policy should Roma grab a couple of goals.
However, that should be of no concern given Ivan Rakitic’s commanding display against Leganes. The Croatian was very much the deep-lying orchestrator on Saturday, registering more touches (129) and passes (115) than any other player on the pitch.
He also made four tackles and three interceptions – more than any of his team-mates. Busquets’ return is certainly a boost but ideally, the 29-year-old needn’t be troubled.
ROMA MUST HOLD OUT HOPE
Things look very bleak for Roma. Not only do they have an uphill task – to put it mildly – in the second leg but having lost 2-0 at home to Fiorentina over the weekend that saw them slip to fourth in Serie A, they’ve now gone the last three games in all competitions without a win. To compound their misery, they are set to face third-placed Lazio on Sunday.
What they can take encouragement from though is the way they played in the first leg. The Italian outfit were in control at the start of the game, restricting Lionel Messi and the rest of the Barcelona side quite impressively. They were undone by a couple of unfortunate own goals but up until then, the Catalans struggled to get the better of them.
With a little bit of luck, they may be in with a chance yet. A first-half goal for the hosts changes the complexion of the tie. Without losing their heads, Roma must replicate their Camp Nou performance to start with and then throw caution to the wind and hold out for a miracle.
Virgil van Dijk has lived up to his billing as the world’s most expensive defender in his short Liverpool career, but shutting out a desperate Manchester City in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday will be his biggest test yet.
Runaway Premier League leaders City could line-up with the most expensive defence ever assembled for their rescue mission, but they may regret letting Van Dijk get away if they fail in their mammoth task to overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit.
Liverpool beat off competition from City to sign Van Dijk for £75 million ($106 million) in January from Southampton, six months after their first attempt to land the Dutchman failed.
Jurgen Klopp was much-criticised early in the campaign for refusing to splash out on a back-up option to Van Dijk as Liverpool’s chances of challenging City for the title vanished quickly due to defensive deficiencies.
However, the German’s patience to get his prime target has been rewarded as Van Dijk has spearheaded a turnaround in Liverpool’s ability to keep opponents at bay.
“What we need at Liverpool are these kind of players who are leaders,” said Klopp recently on Van Dijk’s influence.
The Dutch captain will be examined to the full at the Etihad, though, where Liverpool lost 5-0 earlier in the season.
Klopp’s men were also thrashed 4-1 by Tottenham and involved in thrilling 3-3 draws at Arsenal and Sevilla as they were routinely torn apart on their toughest travels before Van Dijk’s arrival.
Often overshadowed by the prolific front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane at the other end of the field, Liverpool’s improvement at the back is not down to Van Dijk alone.
Despite their more illustrious history, Liverpool struggle to compete financially with Abu-Dhabi backed City’s budget.
Even Van Dijk’s signing was financed by the £142 million sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January.
But Liverpool have proved far more adept at finding bargain solutions.
City spent over £130 million on full-backs alone last summer in buying Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo.
By contrast, Robertson was a £10 million pick-up from Hull City, who were relegated from the Premier League last season, whilst Alexander-Arnold has been at the club since the age of six.
Alexander-Arnold was constantly targeted by City in the first leg up against the pace and trickery of £37 million German international Leroy Sane.
Yet, rather than being intimidated by the opposition, or the frenzied atmosphere of Anfield on a big European night, the 19-year-old right-back produced the performance of his career to date in nullifying Sane and winning man-of-the-match.
“It’s really pretty rare that Sane had pretty much nothing for finishing, making goals, stuff like that,” said Klopp afterwards. “It was outstandingly good, to be honest.”
Patience was also key with Robertson. The Scot found himself sidelined for the majority of the first half of the season until an injury to Alberto Moreno in December handed him a run in the side.
“He opened the door with open arms and explained what I needed to improve. He also said I needed time,” Robertson told the Daily Mail recently on a meeting with Klopp days after he had watched Liverpool taken apart 4-1 at Tottenham.
“I knew then what I had to do. I used it as motivation to get better and put the time in training so, when a chance came, I’d be the most prepared I could be to go and take it.”
Five-time winners Liverpool have waited a decade to get back into the Champions League semi-finals. But as Van Dijk shows, good things come to those who wait.