City return to Merseyside on Wednesday for the first leg of their Champions League Quarter Final tie against The Glorious European History Boys! The first time the two side have met in a European competition.
By the time the game starts I am sure City fans will be roundly sick of hearing about Liverpool’s ‘Fabulous European Nights’ and their ‘history in the competition’, about how they have won it 5 times (actually they have only won the CL once, the four other successes were in the European Cup which was an entirely different format??and a long time ago). Doubtless, an endless line of ex-dippers will have been lined up by the media to bang on about all this stuff feeding into the hysteria which set a number of supposed fans (aka morons) to plan an ambush the City coach on the way to the ground.
Now don`t get me wrong, Liverpool FC have a superlative record in domestic and European competition – 18 First Division titles; 7 FA Cups; 8 League Cups as well as consecutive titles and a host of league and cup doubles. An absolutely fantastic record??..but sadly one which leads many of their supporters to continue to look backwards, wallow in past glories and create a current sense of ill-deserved entitlement. No club deserves success in the present JUST because they achieved it in the past.
It may be a cliché but Pep will want his players to play the game and not the occasion – the reason it is a cliché is because it is true. Pep is clearly aware of it and he will have made sure that this message has been impressed upon the players – he was sending messages out to this effect after the defeat of Everton at the weekend and we can be sure that he will have pressed this home in the player briefings. The atmosphere at Anfield will be be rocking there is no doubt as the scousers follow up any illegal attempts at intimidation by the thoroughly legitimate means of making a lot of noise in support of their club.
The 2819 City fans who make it into the stadium will need to work hard to make themselves heard but I have non doubt that they will be doing their level best. What Pep will NOT want is a 15 minute period where his players produced probably their worst defensive period in the season. He has bags of experience and will need to draw on all of it as he prepares to face Jurgen Klopp`s side but you can bet your mortgage that Pep will not be deterred – he will have a plan and he will want his players to play their football.
To be confirmed??
Liverpool will be without Joe Gomez who picked up an injury on the international break as well as Lallana. Emre Can may face a late fitness test.
Jordan Henderson and Alberto Moreno are a booking away from a ban
City will be waiting on news about the fitness of Sergio Aguero who has been sidelined with a ‘minor` knee problem since before the international break. John Stones may be available after sitting out a seven day period for the concussion he picked up against Italy last week and we await news on Delph`s availability. Laporte appears to be a doubt also having picked up a knock (foot) on Saturday.
Danilo, Gundogan and Fernandinho will all incur a suspension if they pick up a yellow card.
The big question for Pep Guardiola in respect of his team has to be whether to start Raheem Sterling. Since his departure from Merseyside the lad has been subjected to a level of vitriol and vilification which appears to get to him when playing against his old club. As far as the opposing fans are concerned then it is job done – their campaigns on social media have induced a level of performance anxiety beyond their wildest dreams. Whether Sterling can finally overcome this remains to be seen. I have no doubt whatsoever about the young man`s character but whether this game is one where he may be best deployed as a substitute is perhaps Pep`s biggest conundrum. In terms of his team`s set up he clearly will need to have a plan to deal with the Premier League`s leading goalscorer, Mo Salah. He has hit the ground running in the Premier League and was quick to take advantage of a rare error by Ederson in January`s league game.
City`s record against Liverpool at Anfield does not make good reading and playing at this ground represents a ‘blind spot` for the club. City have lost on their last five league visits and we have to go back to the heady days of Kevin Keegan`s coaching time at City for the last victory.
So if history is to be changed then Wednesday could be no better time than to start the next chapter for Manchester City F.C
It could be a classic?..but one where I may have to watch from behind the sofa.
Come on City!!!
P.S. If you want a serious amount of detail about the fixture and each of the clubs check out the impressive UEFA Match Press Pack.
Someone at UEFA is kept seriously busy keeping these up to date.