Manchester City vs Liverpool: Five talking points that could decide Champions League quarter-final
Manchester City face Liverpool knowing they'll need to make history to make it into the Champions League last four.
The three-goal blitz from Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane a week ago has Jurgen Klopp's Reds in an enviable position at halfway in the tie
Only five sides in the competition’s 63-year history have overturned a first-leg deficit of at least three goals to go through with Pep Guardiola all too aware of the size of the task at hand.
"You have to make the perfect game,” the City manager said on Monday. “Create chances, be clinical, concede few chances – all the conditions have to be perfect. The result is tough, but we have 90 minutes and in football, everything can happen. What we are going to do is try."
Opposite number Klopp has no intention of playing it safe though. "To win the game. That's the plan. There's no other plan," he said.
So who will do it? Let's take a look at the key issues that could decide the game.
1. Are City shaken or will they be stirred?
After a dominant season Pep Guardiola's side have stumbled twice in a week. If their first-leg humbling at Anfield hurt, then their defeat by rivals Manchester United at the weekend seemed to double down on the pain.
For a side who have become used to imposing their will on opponents, conceding six goals in 180 minutes of football represents a major wobble. Guardiola will hope they show their true colours in adversity, thriving under pressure, but has their inner belief been rocked this week?
2. Sterling in the spotlight
England winger Raheem Sterling was a surprise omission from the starting line-up against his former club and it was a tactical gamble which blew up in City's face.
Guardiola admitted it sent the wrong signals and duly fielded Sterling up front against United, where he missed a number of chances.
The Catalan coach may have been guilty of overthinking things of late and the smart money must surely be on a return to the flank and a return to his previously productive form.
3. Mohamed Salah's status
The prolific Egyptian sat out the Merseyside derby after appearing to tweak his groin in the first leg but is widely expected to feature against City.
Questions still remain though. Will he start? Can he manage 90 minutes? Will he be at his electric best when he does take to the field?
If the answers are in Liverpool's favour, so too are their prospects of netting an away goal and putting the tie even further out of City's grasp.
4. Wijnaldum drops anchor
With Emre Can injured and Jordan Henderson suspended, Jurgen Klopp will hand midfield screening duties to Georginio Wijnaldum.
If City are to make an unlikely comeback, this will be an area of the park they simply must exploit. Wijnaldum is more comfortable roaming further forward but will be under strict instruction to show discipline in the centre of the park.
With Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva pulling the strings for City, that may not even be enough.
5. Any Laporte in a storm?
Among City's many failings on Merseyside was a fish-out-of-water performance from Aymeric Laporte at left-back.
Midfielder Fabian Delph has been used more successfully as a converted full-back but was part of City's second-half disintegration at the Etihad Stadium.
Whether Guardiola presses one of the two into service again, asks Danilo to do the job or gives a big vote of confidence to Oleksandr Zinchenko, the position still looks ripe to cause him a headache.
Independent News Service