Sunday 24 June 2018

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Analysis - Klopp doesn't want his team burdened by hand of history

Liverpool boss says his charges must not dwell on past and focus on making their own mark

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

Jason Burt

An epic European night awaits; a night, Jurgen Klopp declared, for Liverpool to "create our own history".

It is a phrase deeply resonant, too, for their opponents tonight, Manchester City, given their brilliance under Pep Guardiola and their ambition and the history they are creating for themselves.

The Premier League title is City's; records are being broken, they are raising football to a higher level, but it is utterly compelling that it is Liverpool who stand in their way in the Champions League quarter- final; Liverpool, the only team to have beaten them in the league this season, and to do so bravely and thrillingly in winning 4-3 at Anfield in January; Liverpool for whom Europe means so much. It is where their DNA was forged.

The most successful English club in this competition are, like City, on the rise, although not quite at the same extraordinary trajectory, and while some may scoff at the talk of the Anfield effect on big European evenings, it only has to be witnessed to be believed.

If it is harnessed and channelled, if Liverpool can make this a European tie rather than an English match, it could be a factor even with the second leg to come next week at the Etihad.

Klopp was reminded of when Jose Mourinho brought his apparently unstoppable, cold-eyed Chelsea machine to this stadium in 2005 for what was a Champions League semi-final only to be defeated, via the infamous Luis Garcia "ghost goal", in one of the most intense, loud, relentless and unforgiving atmospheres that has ever been summoned.

Engaging

"I like all these things that are really cool," the Liverpool manager said in that engaging manner of his and acutely aware, as anyone who holds his office surely has to be, of the club's rich story in the European Cup, which they have won a remarkable five times, most recently 13 years ago.

"But this club is already so full of history that we have to write our own history," Klopp added, tellingly. "I meet people each day who can tell me each goal Liverpool scored 37 years ago. We need to be proud of our history and we need to create our own history. I did that a lot in the past with my former teams.

"At one point, you need to do your own thing. The boys are ready, they are really looking forward to it. You could see that after the draw."

It was a theme engaged by Guardiola, although he seemed understandably bemused by questions about whether he was concerned there may be a hostile welcome for his team, as their bus snakes through the tight streets around Anfield.

"The atmosphere is tough. But if you go to Barcelona, Madrid, the atmosphere is tough as well," Guardiola said. "The big challenge is to get your team to play the way you want. It's a joy to be here and to try to be ourselves... The people suggest what is going to happen tomorrow but I still have not lived it. Tomorrow, after the game, I can tell you what it was like."

Given Guardiola has coached Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and given his own history in big matches and on the biggest stages, that was unsurprising, although he acknowledged Liverpool's dimensions in Europe and set them out as a challenge to be enjoyed rather than something to evoke fear.

"Liverpool fans can show what is their history," the City manager said. "We are here with one semi-final of the Champions League and they have won it five times. People say we are favourites but you have to feel it."

Inevitably, there is a quiet confidence to City, with Guardiola insisting he will not bend his wonderful style of play by asking his players to behave any differently, otherwise it would suggest he was "scared".

It would be shocking if he said anything different.

In fact, the managers sounded similar as they spoke with the basic theme of "bring it on; we will not change".

It felt like two heavyweight boxers declaring they would not flinch. That it would be toe to toe, eyeball to eyeball, to the end.

"We will be ourselves," Guardiola said.

"Sitting back is no solution," Klopp insisted, adding: "It's big, big, big."

It certainly is big. There is a mutual admiration between the managers. They like each other's style.

The stakes are so high and yet no one expects any compromise.

The forward lines alone are extraordinary, and although City will be without the injured Sergio Aguero, they have such a formidable, exciting and young attacking armoury in Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane ahead of their endlessly creative midfield.

Up against this will be Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, and, despite the purity of his approach, there was a hint from Guardiola that he may have a plan, as surely he must, to combat the Egyptian.

"I have an idea," Guardiola said. "But you understand, I'm not going to tell you."

Liverpool have been forced to plan without Joel Matip, who has been ruled out for the season with a thigh injury, while Ragnar Klavan and Emre Can and Adam Lallana will also be missing.

But Klopp is relishing a fixture that has grabbed the imagination of a worldwide audience and said: "I am sure everything will be prepared for a classic atmosphere."

City beat Liverpool 5-0 this season - a result that is often overlooked, albeit a scoreline affected by the first-half dismissal of Mane - and therefore hold a thumping 8-4 aggregate over their opponents.

It would be no surprise if, across two matches, 12 goals were again shared.

Although what the ratio is this time remains to be seen.

But City are, rightly, the favourites again and have emphatically earned that status.

The imponderable in this first leg is whether it can be affected. Not just by Klopp and his team but whatever Anfield can muster. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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