A few thoughts from the match: Liverpool 3 Man City 0 - by Paul Natton
1. Get in!!!
2. How’s that “Your atmosphere is overplayed” line working for you this morning, City fans?
3. I hate that joyless dirge which has become our new CL anthem this season, but I tell you what: I couldn’t stop singing it last night. It certainly sounds a lot better when we’re twatting the “best team in Europe” everywhere while booming it out. Fantastic.
4. From the greeting of the coaches to the roar at the final whistle, the atmosphere didn’t dip below wonderfully manic even once (some dickhead damaging their coach excepted, of course; way to fuel a stereotype, soft lad).
5. The crude pre-match categorisations in the press of our game as some sort of wild-eyed, frenetic riot on a football pitch were rendered laughably idiotic by that first half display. It was the most controlled and tactically astute dismantling of a side at this level I have ever seen. Certainly, I don’t ever recall seeing Pep be so comprehensively out-thought before, nevermind his players out-fought and out-played too.
6. We set up with the most compact defensive shape I’ve seen from us post-Rafa and it shut down all the little half spaces that Silva and De Bruyne usually exploit to maximum effect, thereby negating their combined threat almost entirely. We then used that shape as a platform from which to attack collectively (rather than “merely” on the break) and scored three great goals.
7. In a performance like last night’s every player stands out, such was its quality. However, in the context of our organisation and focus, the trio of leaders in Virgil, Hendo and Big Games James stood out as they instructed, cajoled and barked at their teammates in order to maintain control, regardless of which side had possession.
8. In terms of Klopp out-thinking Pep and having a plan for every scenario, the above was clear every time Ederson got the ball. Milner would immediately start directing the midfield into place in order to shut down his precision deliveries into dangerous areas. Likewise, the way the team consistently backed up the clearly targeted Trent, despite making substitutions on his flank which had potential to disrupt our discipline, spoke of the highest quality coaching and drilling.
9. That said, the best plans in the world are useless if the men executing them lack the intelligence, composure, bravery and focus to ensure they are fully delivered. And in that regard, there wasn’t a single player who fell below stellar levels of performance.
But what about Trent, eh? He was quite obviously targeted by City, not least by the lightening pace and outrageous skill of Leroy Sané, and yet he didn’t just thrive; he dominated. At this level.
The lad is nineteen years old. Just let that sink in for a minute. This wasn’t a raw talent playing off instinct and aggression and having a semi-flukey and well-timed great game. This was a performance of maturity and intelligence at the very highest level under the most extreme pressure. 19!!!
10. The defending as a whole was clearly the work of eleven men. However, let’s not dismiss the other individual performances across our back line as mere collective aggregation. Andy Robbo is now clearly the best left back we’ve had since Steve Nicol and certainly the best in his position in the country, while Virgil’s class is universally - and rightly - acknowledged.
However, what about Lovren and Karius? Both put in superb performances last night with the widely derided Croatian having the game of his life. While it would be possible to question the keeper’s contribution in the context of zero (count ‘em!) shots on target from City, what about his decision-making and distribution?
He out-Ederson’d Ederson and that outlet ball to him at the back is a huge factor in our greater defensive confidence, while his high starting position dramatically helps our counter-pressing as it allows a much higher defensive line.
11. And what counter-pressing, eh? Bobby for Mo’s opener! Milner for Ox’s screamer! Sensational. Controlled aggression (the best kind - coach-damaging dickhead take note!) was evident all over the pitch in Red, not least in the three players attacking Mo’s sublime cross for Mané’s header.
12. The second half took in a different complexion to the first as we adopted an obdurate defensive shape and refused to budge. Yes folks, this was the much-questioned ability to hold on to what we have. Against City. In the CL quarter-final. To deliver a clean sheet!
We didn’t concede a single shot on goal either which is absolutely mind-blowing and throws into relief the received wisdom of a home first leg as being a disadvantage. Would anyone swap now, with a single away strike next Tuesday leaving City with a five-goal mountain to climb?
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not through yet and if any team can come back from such odds, it’s City. However, equally if any club can recognise the possibility of a second half renaissance from a three goal European deficit, it’s us.
13. So to that second leg: injuries are officially a worry now (although Mo was back out on the pitch smiling after the final whistle). We quite clearly need to rest some players in the derby on Saturday. However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water and make a mess of that game. In my view, it’s still really important we go all out for second.
In City minds, we have just gone from the side they were keeping an eye on to their outright nemesis in the space of 90 minutes. We will need every little advantage possible if we’re going to win the title next season and so ending this season in City’s rear-view mirror is important. Plus, you know, let’s put The Mancs back in their cage, too.
That said, we have enough quality and know-how to still beat Everton even allowing for changes. As with next Tuesday though, let's not take it for granted.
14. So as sore heads and throats recover from the mayhem of last night, where does this leave us? The short - and accurate - answer is nowhere yet. However, if any Red isn’t now completely tantalised by the possibilities of this side’s trajectory under Klopp then they never will be because it’s certain that the rest of Europe are taking note and marking us down as the team to avoid.
15. Come on you Reds!!!