Despite Liverpool leading Manchester City 3-0 after the first leg of this all-English quarter final, most neutrals felt the tie was still finely balanced. Although most people were pretty sure Guardiola’s runaway league leaders were capable of scoring three or more goals at home, just as many were certain Liverpool would score at least one away goal.
One thing we were all sure of was that it was going to be a spectacula night, and that it most certainly was.
Liverpool would have been bracing themselves for a hurricane once the match kicked off, and they weren’t kept waiting. City made the perfect start when Raheem Sterling set up Gabriel Jesus for a cool finish after only two minutes. The goal obviously gave City’s players belief and the attacks and pressure didn’t relent for the rest of the half. Liverpool rode their luck a little, with Bernardo Silva striking the post and Leroy Sane netting what City thought was their second goal. To City’s fury and everybody else’s amazement, the goal was disallowed for offside and Liverpool made it to half-time trailing by only the single goal.
As the players made their way from the pitch at half-time Guardiola marched on to confront the referee in an outburst that saw him getting sent off and obliged to watch the second half from the stands.
Klopp took the opportunity to remind his team they had to follow the gameplan he had given them and sent them back out with a few strong words.
City started the second half as they had ended the first, resuming their attacks, but with less success. Then, in the 56th minute Mohamed Salah chipped in his 39th goal of the season after a powerful run by Sadio Mane in the 56th minute. The score was 1-1 but the tie was over; you could see the belief, already hammered by consecutive defeats against Liverpool and Manchester United, fade away. It may have taken until 13 minutes from time for Roberto Firmino to score what would be the winner on the night, but the game was over long before that.
City will rightly feel that they were victims of some very unfair decisions, in particular with Sane’s goal incorrectly ruled out for offside, but the reality is that despite almost totally monopolising possession in the first half, they achieved little with it.
Guardiola will yet receive further punishment from UEFA, not just for his actions during the game but also his comments about the referee, with whom he already had history. It doesn’t matter what he said; let’s just say he wasn’t happy with the referee.
So now City need to get over what has been a dramatically bad week for them and get on with wrapping up the Premier League title. Guardiola will have his work cut out to make sure that their next game, away to in-form Tottenham, doesn’t lead to a fourth consecutive defeat.
Liverpool, meanwhile, can celebrate after reaching their first Champions League semi-final for 10 years. Looking at their likely opponents, Roma, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, you’ve got to say this could be Klopp and Liverpool’s year..