Man City and Liverpool break from PL title battle to resume European pursuit
The Champions League quarter-final second legs continue on Wednesday, with both Liverpool and Manchester City one step away from reaching the final four.
The intense schedule for these two sides continues after Sunday’s energy-sapping 2-2 draw at the Etihad, which leaves the Premier League title race still on a knife edge with seven games to go and they face off again on Saturday in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
Liverpool have one foot in the semi-final after leaving Lisbon with a 3-1 over Benfica last Tuesday, while City take a slender 1-0 advantage to Atletico Madrid.
If Jurgen Klopp’s side go through as expected against Benfica at Anfield on Wednesday night they will play either Bayern Munich or Villarreal in the semi-final.
Meanwhile, City or Atletico will face the winners of Tuesday night’s semi-final between Real Madrid and Chelsea.
Dias back in training | Pep: Everyone will be important
Heading into Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final second-leg clash Man City hold a slender 1-0 lead over Atletico Madrid thanks to Kevin De Bruyne’s goal at the Etihad Stadium as they bid to stay on course for the treble.
Guardiola revealed defender Ruben Dias had returned to training and will be travelling with the squad, and he has no new injury or suspension problems.
The Portugal centre-half has been sidelined since early March due to a thigh injury.
Man City provisional squad
Ederson, Steffen, Walker, Carson, Stones, Dias, Ake, Zinchenko, Laporte, Cancelo, Mbete, Egan-Riley, Gundogan, Grealish, Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva, Fernandinho, Mahrez, Foden, McAtee, Lavia, Sterling, Kayky, Delap.
Guardiola said: “He (Dias) travels with us and the rest, all of them are fit Maybe (he will play on Wednesday), I don’t know. He makes one training session and six weeks off… The fact he’s back is incredible and we have a big schedule until the end of the season. Everyone will be important.”
Gabriel Jesus is suspended after receiving his third yellow card of the tournament in last week’s 1-0 first-leg win, while young midfielder Cole Palmer (foot) will be assessed.
Pep expecting ‘aggressive’ Atletico Madrid
The Manchester City boss is expecting a different game to the first leg with a more aggressive Atletico Madrid in front of their own fans at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
“We travel with a good result with the intention to win. We try to see the score in the last 5-10 minutes what it is.
“It will be slightly different; they are at home, they create momentums. For the passion all the fans they have, there will be moments they will be so aggressive and create problems. We adapt and try to defend.”
Guardiola added: “It will be a different game, not like last week. They’re at home with their fans behind them.
“From what I remember from knockout games they have really exciting moments in [their previous stadium] the Calderon, at the Wanda (Metropolitano) they create problems, defend and counter.
“They will be more intense in the top half of the field than they were the other night. We adapt and if we’re losing we go with everything to get it back. If we’re on top, maybe we sit a bit deeper.”
‘Talk is cheap’ – Simeone unimpressed with negativity over his tactics
Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone has hit back at critics of his defensive style as he attempts to engineer a Champions League comeback against Manchester City.
Simeone has found himself in the firing line over his side’s performance in their defeat against the Premier League leaders at the Etihad Stadium last week. On that occasion Atletico showed little attacking intent and spent most of the game sitting back in the hope of frustrating Pep Guardiola’s men.
Former Italy and Atletico manager Arrigo Sacchi and Dutch great Marco Van Basten have been among the high-profile critics of Simeone’s style and the Argentinian himself is unimpressed.
“I’ve been a coach since 2005-06 and I’ve never talked down to a colleague of mine or talked badly,” said Simeone at a press conference ahead of Wednesday’s second leg against City.
“I always try to get in the other coaches’ shoes and there’s different ways of expressing what you think and what you believe in every game. When you don’t show appreciation for a colleague, I don’t really share that, but there are opinions of every journalist, every ex-player and people who haven’t played the game for a while, and they want to say a different thing.
“Like my dad said, ‘The fish dies by the mouth’. It’s a saying. Talk is cheap, talk is free and everybody can talk. We all have our opinions but I don’t talk badly of colleagues. I always respect my fellow coaches.”
Klopp to freshen things up for Benfica
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insists Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City will have no bearing on his team selection for the Champions League tie at home to Benfica.
Three days after a 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium, the Reds face a quarter-final second leg which they go into with a 3-1 lead, a cushion which could be enough for Klopp to consider whether to rest some of his top players for the weekend trip to Wembley.
Liverpool provisional squad
Alisson, Gomez, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson, Fabinho, Keita, Milner, Salah, Firmino, Diaz, Kelleher, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Tsimikas, Henderson, Thiago, Jones, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Elliott, Jota, Mane, Minamino, Origi.
But he insists that is not the case.
“The next game has no influence on the line-up for tomorrow but the last game has,” Klopp said. “Super intense schedule. No-one injured as far as I know but we need to look at who is freshest.
“A super important game (against Benfica). We tried so hard to get to the Champions League and now we can make it to semis.”
On how to approach the tie, Klopp added: “It’s 3-1 at half-time, it’s as tricky as 2-0. A good basis, but if they score one – like we felt against Inter – the game changes.
“We felt it when they scored last week. We really need to make them feel this is a place they don’t want to go.”
Centre-back Ibrahima Konate, who played in Lisbon last week, is likely to replace Joel Matip again while Naby Keita, only a substitute against Manchester City at the weekend, could come back into midfield. Roberto Firmino and Luis Diaz look set to start up front.
Everton hoping homework on Liverpool ‘weak points’ pays off
Benfica winger Everton hopes to exploit the weaknesses of Liverpool defenders Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ibrahima Konate after doing specific analysis on their performances.
Konate, in particular, was targeted by the Portuguese side in the first leg with 29-goal striker Darwin Nunez trying to isolate the Reds’ third choice centre-back in the Estadio da Luz in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final last week.
The left-sided Everton will be mainly up against Alexander-Arnold at Anfield in the second leg, in which they trail 3-1, but he has done his research on all of the right side of Liverpool’s defence, with Konate expected to again replace Joel Matip.
“I’ve been trying to study the opponent after the first game, looking to better analyse the individual qualities of Alexander-Arnold and Konate,” he told a press conference.
“I have tried to see where they have difficulties, the weak point, so that I can exploit and have a happy night, to give joy to the fans.”
Klopp: This is my best Liverpool squad
Liverpool have already won the Carabao Cup and are still fighting in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup – and it is all down to the new-found squad depth at Klopp’s disposal this season.
That is exactly why Klopp ranks this as his best batch of Liverpool players since arriving from Borussia Dortmund seven years ago.
Asked if this is the best Liverpool squad he has had, Klopp said: “Yes. Since I’m here we’ve always had great teams. I love them all. But now we have a bigger squad, high quality, all fit for the first time since I am here, more experienced.
“There are quite a few boys that have been here since I am here, so that means we know much more about each other. Yeah, it’s the strongest team.”
Opta stats: Can Mohamed Salah overtake Steven Gerrard?
Mohamed Salah has scored 14 goals in 23 appearances for Liverpool at Anfield in the UEFA Champions League – his next home goal will see him overtake Steven Gerrard (14) for the most goals scored by a Liverpool player at Anfield in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League.
Since the start of the 2017-18 season – Liverpool’s first under Jürgen Klopp in the UEFA Champions League – only Robert Lewandowski (54) has been involved in more goal-ending sequences of play than Mohamed Salah (46) in the competition.
Only two teams have ever won by more than one goal away to Liverpool in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, however one of those instances was by Benfica (2-0 in 2005-06 in the Round of 16) – the other being Chelsea’s 3-1 win there in the 2008-09 quarter-finals.
Liverpool have progressed from each of their last 12 ties in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages after winning the first leg, with their last – and only – elimination in this scenario coming in the 2001-02 quarter-finals against Bayer Leverkusen (1-0 in first leg, 2-4 in the second leg).
This season is the fourth time Atlético Madrid have lost the first leg of a UEFA Champions League knockout tie away from home – Diego Simeone’s side have progressed on two of the three previous occasions, however, eliminating Barcelona in 2015-16 (3-2 on aggregate) and Bayer Leverkusen in 2014-15 (1-1 on aggregate, progressing in a penalty shootout).
After a run of nine victories in 10 home games between November 2017 and October 2020, Atlético Madrid are winless in their last seven home games in the UEFA Champions League (D4 L3) – their last victory in the competition on home soil came in October 2020 (3-2 v RB Salzburg).
Atlético Madrid failed to attempt a shot in the first leg against Manchester City. Since 2003-04, the fewest shots recorded by a team across two legs of a UEFA Champions League knockout tie is four, by Shakhtar Donetsk against Bayern Munich in 2014-15. The only team to have failed to record a shot on target across two legs in this period was Deportivo La Coruña in the 2003-04 semi-finals against FC Porto.
This will be Manchester City’s 100th game in the Champions League – the Citizens have won 55 of their first 99, which is already the most by an English side through a century of games in the competition. Overall, only Real Madrid have won more of their first 100 games in the Champions League (57).
April 13 – Benfica (h) Champions League QF second leg
April 16/17 – Man City (Wembley) FA Cup semi-finals
April 19 – Man United (h) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
April 24 – Everton (h) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
April 26/27 – Villarreal/Bayern Munich Champions League SF first leg *
April 30 – Newcastle (a) Premier League
May 3/4 – Villarreal/Bayern Munich Champions League SF second leg *
May 7 – Tottenham (h) Premier League
May 10 – Aston Villa (a) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
May 14 – FA Cup final *
May 15 – Southampton (a) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
May 22 – Wolves (h) Premier League
May 28 – Champions League final *
* Subject to progress
To be rearranged: Wolves (a) Premier League
April 13 – Atletico Madrid (a) Champions League QF second leg
April 16 – Liverpool (Wembley) FA Cup semi-finals
April 20 – Brighton (h) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
April 23 – Watford (h) Premier League
April 26/27 – Chelsea/Real Madrid Champions League SF first leg *
April 30 – Leeds (a) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
May 3/4 – Chelsea/Real Madrid Champions League SF second leg *
May 8 – Newcastle (h) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
May 14 – FA Cup final *
May 15 – West Ham (a) Premier League, live on Sky Sports
May 22 – Aston Villa (h) Premier League
May 28 – Champions League final *
* Subject to progress