Liverpool hope to use past experience and Anfield atmosphere to their advantage against Manchester City
Klopp's men have beaten Premier League leaders once this season already but know a tougher task awaits in trying to get past them over 180 minutes in Uefa Champions League quarter-finals
Every other ambitious English club in this unusual Premier League season has at times been caught between the obligation to praise the division’s brilliant standard-setters, and to cite the reasons why its own levels are not as high as Manchester City’s.
Chelsea, the dethroned champions, have a manager who barely ceases hinting that his bosses have been too mean in resourcing his project to properly compete.
Manchester United’s manager meanwhile regularly refers to the low base from which he has been asked to nourish a steady revival.
And Liverpool, well ... perhaps Liverpool will end up needing to make fewer excuses than the rest of the chasing pack. They alone have defeated City in the league this season.
They have provided as much evidence as almost anybody else – even than a dashing Tottenham Hotspur – that English club football generally, not just the top team, is as strong and entertaining as it has been this century.
The task for Liverpool ahead of Wednesday’s first leg of the all-English Uefa Champions League quarter-final that will funnel just one Premier League contender into in the last four of the European Cup is to marshall all the legitimate feelings of a real Anfield renaissance into a positive forcefield in the home leg against City.
Jurgen Klopp, self-styled touchline MC of positive vibes, has forecast “there will be fire”.
One contest those in the red corner believe they will win over those in the blue is in the generating of an atmosphere. Anfield is unique. Visiting footballers from across Europe, even those with a decade spent travelling to midweek fixtures everywhere from Lisbon to the Luzhniki say so with sincerity, and it is a stadium that feels peculiarly attached to the European Cup.
By contrast, modern Manchester City have a significant number of supporters whose attitude to the elite continental competition has been quite hostile, indifferent even. It is not so long ago that City were fined by Uefa for the fact that the Uefa anthem was booed at the Etihad stadium.
City will have won more Premier League titles by the end of this season – perhaps by the end of this week – in the space of six years as Liverpool, 18 times England’s champion club, have won English league titles in the last 20 years.
Put that way, Wednesday’s meeting is a caricature of 21st century success versus faded glories. Yet what emboldens Liverpool is the five European Cups they can boast, and fresh enough memories of an enduring expertise in European knockout ties that City have yet to acquire.
Liverpool, never better than second in the league in the last 27 years, have been in two Champions League finals since 2005, and were silver-medallists in the Europa League in Klopp’s debut season at Anfield.
In each of the 2005, 2007 and 2016 European campaigns, Liverpool reached the final having eliminated English teams in knockout ties on the way.
When they won the Champions League in 2005, Chelsea were dispatched, as they were again in 2007, when Liverpool went on to lose the final.
Manchester United were beaten in the Europa League last-16 stage two seasons ago. And in every one of those cases, the beaten English club occupied a position above Liverpool in the Premier League table.
A good omen, a pointer to the magical hold of Europe over the Merseysiders?
Klopp hopes so, and while he will take as many leads, tactical guides and motivations as he can from the whiplash 4-3 triumph he oversaw when Liverpool punctured City’s unbeaten league run in January, he acknowledges that over 180 minutes, they will need more than the nine-minute, three-goal blitz in which they turned 1-1 scoreline against City that day into a 4-1 advantage.
Fact is, Liverpool have conceded eight goals against Pep Guardiola’s juggernaut in two meetings in the Premier League this season. The 5-0 loss at the Etihad was one of the several games that put scrutiny on Liverpool’s loose defending, bad habits that have partially corrected since.
Klopp also knows Liverpool need a trophy sooner or later to endorse his good work, to ensure that the likes of Mohamed Salah, the man City most fear, feel this is a club that will meet his own high standards in the long-term, and, above all, to dampen down the concern - easily stirred at Anfield - that this is a club not confined by nostalgia about its glorious past.
Updated: April 3, 2018 12:51 PM