Liverpool lead 3-0 from the first leg at Anfield but their manager is making no assumptions ahead of Tuesday's reverse fixture at the Etihad Stadium.
Jurgen Klopp wary of Man City firepower as Liverpool seek delicate balance in Uefa Champions League quarter-final second leg
Part of Jurgen Klopp’s charm lies in his capacity for left-field thought and his ability to conjure a unique phrase.
Liverpool were synonymous with the Uefa Champions League in the days when it was still the European Cup, yet while Pep Guardiola likes to reference Manchester City’s comparative lack of history in continental competitions, the reality is Liverpool are in their first quarter-final for nine years and have not reached the last four for a decade.
“You can ask yourself if the experience of your grandfather helps you in your life,” said Klopp, who is both showman and entertainer and the catalyst for Liverpool’s rebirth in Europe and their transformation into high-paced attackers
Most of the heroes of Liverpool’s glory nights are in their fifties and sixties now. Tommy Smith, a scorer in the 1977 final, turned 73 last week. A successor, though not a biological descendant, Trent Alexander-Arnold, will be charged with halting Leroy Sane for the second time in a week. He is still a teenager for another six months.
Klopp found a roundabout way of saying it, but Liverpool are in uncharted territory; as a group and as any team facing City this season.
“Defending a 3-0 lead is going to be a bit of a strange situation,” said Virgil van Dijk, who will anchor that defence. Liverpool’s answer feels entirely typical: attack.
“We need to come here with the mindset that it is still 0-0 and we want to win the game and we know we are capable of scoring goals,” added Van Dijk.
The question of expectation is a constant. “It is common sense to say when we play in the Champions League against the winner of the Premier League that you are not the favourite,” said Klopp, fully aware his side started the tie as underdogs. He is aware the most anticipated outcome on Tuesday night is that Liverpool lose the game but progress on aggregate.
A man whose brand of football can cause opponents chaos is all too aware of the sport’s unpredictability. Unprompted, he mentioned that his side conceded five goals at the Etihad Stadium in September. He highlighted, too, the first half of City’s 3-2 defeat to Manchester United on Saturday.
“Against one of the best teams in the world, they could have scored six goals and maybe should have four at least,” he said.
More goals seem on the agenda on Tuesday night. Three meetings of Liverpool and City this season have produced 15. Between them, they have scored 242 times: Guardiola’s side, with 126, are 10 ahead of Klopp’s charges, but Liverpool are the Champions League’s top scorers.
And yet the overlooked statistic is that Liverpool have six clean sheets in their last seven European games. “We defended very well in the second half [last week],” Van Dijk said.
Liverpool are striking a delicate balance, guarding against complacency, respecting City and yet stressing their own attributes. Klopp described City as the planet’s finest team and Guardiola as its outstanding manager, yet he also said: “There is no perfect football team in the world.”
Perfection, he argued, is unattainable as he outlined with exaggeration when asked to define his perfect scenario: “If we score five, it will be difficult for Manchester [City].”
“They have so much quality,” said Van Dijk. Tellingly, though, when asked if he felt City were vulnerable, he argued he already sensed that after Liverpool inflicted their first Premier League defeat in January. “We are full of confidence anyway,” said the Dutchman.
It is an attitude Liverpool will bring whether or not Mohamed Salah, whose groin injury ended his participation in the first leg, is passed fit. The Egyptian trained on Sunday, but a decision will be made on Tuesday.
Not that Klopp appeared too worried by the potential absence of a 38-goal forward who has struck in his last two games against City and troubled a host of left-backs. He was asked instead about Roberto Firmino, who feels he is in the finest form of his career.
Klopp’s comic timing came to the fore as he was asked if he agreed. Klopp paused, weighed up an answer and simply said: “Yes.” Did he want to elaborate, came the response. He grinned, considered and responded: “No.”