Wednesday 18 September 2019

John Giles: There isn't a team in Europe with attacking power like Liverpool - that's what will get them over the line

Roberto Firmino (left) and Mohamed Salah (right)
Roberto Firmino (left) and Mohamed Salah (right)

John Giles

AFTER a stunning series of Champions League quarter-finals, the only thing I can say with any certainty about the landscape of European football is that Spain has dropped off the heights and change is in the air.

I said when I saw the draw for the knock-out phase that an English team had a great chance of at least making the final and even winning the Champions League and that's still the case.

Jurgen Klopp, his team and the Liverpool fans can dream about winning because there isn't a team in Europe with the attacking power they have and the ability to simply steamroll teams in ten minutes.

Have they improved defensively? I'm not so sure about that. There are indications that Klopp is at least thinking about defending more than he did before and Virgil Van Dijk has definitely improved them at the back.

But if any competition exposes weakness it's the Champions League at the knockout level when every team is a good team and capable of punishing poor defending.

Over the longer haul, it may be that this season has convinced Klopp that he must pay more attention to his defence if Liverpool are to deliver a Premier League title but with two games to go in a knock-out competition, attack will be the only thing on his mind.

It is worth noting that Barcelona and Manchester City have all been head and shoulders above the rest in domestic competition and will be crowned as champions of Spain and England over the coming weeks yet when it came to the crunch, it was poor defending which let them down.

Liverpool exposed City's soft centre for 45 remarkable minutes at Anfield and scored five over two legs. Roma scored three without reply against Barcelona in Rome.

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These results confirmed that Pep Guardiola has plenty of work to do in the summer at the Etihad recruiting better defenders than the ones he has and underlined the notion I've had for a while that Barcelona have gone off the boil.

Nothing lasts forever and the same can be said of La Liga's domination of the Champions League for the last four years .

Just four clubs contested the last four finals and La Liga produced three of them. Real, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.  Juventus were the only team to oppose Spain's power and they lost to Barca in 2015 and Real Madrid last year.

I felt sorry for them after such a brilliant 90 minutes in the Bernabeu in midweek but when Gianluigi Buffon has time to think and look at the replays, he will know that he lost the plot, the penalty awarded was justified and that he was sitting powerless in the dressing room when Cristiano Ronaldo nearly broke the net from the penalty spot.

Of course, Ronaldo's goal means that Real Madrid are still standing and for me, still marginally the favourites to win the competition and make it three-in-a-row but that will come with its own pressures and teams like Liverpool and Roma have nothing to lose.

People shouldn't forget about Jupp Heynckes who stepped aside for Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich after winning a Champions League, Bundesliga and Cup treble and could do the same again before he finishes.

There are still question marks over big names like Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery and whether their best is behind them but while the rest of the quarter-finals were filled with drama and remarkable results, the Germans put Sevilla away with a 0-0 draw after they did the hard work in Spain with a 2-1 win in the first leg.

So there are question marks over all of the teams in the semi-finals and perhaps that is why the competition exploded into life in the way it did and why Liverpool fans are dusting down banners they last used in Istanbul 13 years ago.

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