By Ger McCarthy
Virgil van Dijk may have been at fault for Manchester City’s opening goal but Liverpool’s record £75m signing and Dejan Lovren repelled everything their opponents threw at them following that early indiscretion.
Jurgen Klopp deserves credit for building such a solid back four around the Dutch international and insisting on paying so much for van Dijk at a time plenty of suitors were unwilling to meet Southampton’s exorbitant asking price. The impact of the German’s other major import, Mohammed Salah, speaks for itself.
Merging a disciplined deep-lying defence with a fleet-footed attack suits Liverpool perfectly when playing in Europe. Add in Klopp’s high-pressing tactic and no opponent is permitted time on the ball allowing Liverpool to unleash Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane as soon as the opportunity arises.
Few people will give Liverpool a chance of progressing further in European football’s premier competition expect for Jurgen Klopp and his increasingly confident looking players.
The pressure on Manchester City’s defence to keep a clean sheet was palpable ahead of kick-off having uncharacteristically conceded nine goals in five preceding games. It was a similar story at the opposite end of the pitch where Pep Guardiola’s expensively assembled strike force had failed to score a goal beyond the 65th minute in their last ten outings.
Erratic form aside, City’s manager had spoken of the need to “make almost the perfect game” in the build-up to their crunch Champions League encounter.
It was a night for cool heads but Guardiola left his players and his club down by needlessly getting himself sent off for remonstrating with referee Antonio Mateu Lahoza following a wrongly disallowed goal.
Pep’s decision to withdraw David Silva for Sergio Aguero was a real head-scratcher, adding to a forgettable night for the Manchester club and their manager.
Club owner Sheikh Mansour and Chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak have invested close to €1bn since arriving in Manchester. Lifting the Champions League trophy remains the primary target for City’s wealthy backers but they will have to wait a little longer having once again failed to make it beyond the quarter-finals stage.
Despite a 5-1 aggregate loss to Liverpool, the current City manager’s job is not at risk and more signings are expected after the World Cup. Manchester City’s curve will continue its upward spiral.
As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp has delivered another positive domestic campaign where consistency remains the only question mark surrounding a free-scoring side. Holding on to their prize assets over the summer months will dictate the Anfield club’s chances of building on a superb Champions League campaign.