When Liverpool and Manchester City meet, normal tends to go out the window
And so to part three of the trilogy. Liverpool’s meetings with Manchester City this season are starting to take on the appearance of an epic series, marked by extremes of emotion, high drama and unlikely plot lines. That the second and third have been separated by just three days gives them a still more compelling air.
The first, in November, was notable for a brilliant display by Liverpool, a shock-and-awe performance of gegenpressing. It was the closest they have come to defining Jurgen Klopp’s vision of football. Three goals ahead after 32 minutes, they won 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium. City were shell-shocked.
They were celebrating in Sunday’s rematch. Liverpool’s victory three months ago was prestigious. City’s triumph three days ago brought a more tangible prize, in the shape of the League Cup.
It was their fifth trophy in five years. Liverpool have only won one in 10, highlighting the shift in the balance of power between these clubs.
Klopp’s comments yesterday reflected the extent to which Liverpool appear underdogs. “The game on Sunday showed it is possible to win against Manchester City,” he said. So should November’s crushing win. Yet the principal memories are of Sunday’s disappointment.
“We cannot change history but we have to show we are ready,” the German added. One of the most deserving characters in his team is not. Lucas Leiva suffered a double setback at Wembley, incurring a muscle injury as he struck the spot kick Willy Caballero saved. He is set to sit out the rematch.
So, as the cast list changes, might the two men who ultimately decided the League Cup final. Caballero, the unimpressive understudy turned shoot-out star, will surely revert to the bench after his three penalty saves secured City victory at Wembley.
Yaya Toure, who converted the winning penalty, is a doubt with what Manuel Pellegrini termed “a kick”.
He was only willing to confirm one selection, the most controversial choice of all. Raheem Sterling will make his first appearance at Anfield since his £49 million (Dh250m) move to City.
On Sunday, the winger was given a preview of what he can expect tonight when he was taunted for his supposed greed, although, infamously, Sterling’s agent Aidy Ward had said he would not sign a new contract with Liverpool even for £900,000 a week.
“One player I am sure will start is Raheem,” said Pellegrini, who has no hesitation about plunging him into a hostile environment. “I have 100 per cent trust in Raheem. It is important for him to play under pressure.”
Sterling left Liverpool without winning a trophy. His first came at their expense, despite his misses that could have secured City victory within 90 minutes. They will heighten the scrutiny on him, and perhaps the Liverpool crowd can afford to focus on him rather than the result.
Apart from their Europa League challenge, Liverpool’s thoughts may turn to next season.
We are of course planning for the future,” said Klopp. Two of those who erred at Wembley, Alberto Moreno and Simon Mignolet, have to prove they merit a part in it. The Belgian was at fault for Fernandinho’s opener and Klopp said: “I would lie if I said the goal in the final was unstoppable.”
City have more immediate concerns than individuals’ fates. Their title challenge last year suffered a fatal blow at Anfield. It appeared to the previous season, though they recovered to become champions. Sterling is a rarity in a team with no experience of winning these games on Merseyside.
Because City not triumphed at Anfield since 2003. They have suffered defeats inflicted by Philippe Coutinho in each of the past two seasons.
Coutinho threatened to be their nemesis when he equalised at Wembley, but the Brazilian then missed his penalty in the shoot-out. It was a sign of how complicated the storyline between these clubs is getting.
Heroes have become flawed, winners losers and supposed failures have been transformed into successes.
Published: March 1, 2016 04:00 AM