Kvartsfinal i Champions League, som vi väntat på att få vara tillbaka här igen! Under onsdagskvällen är det dags för den första av två matcher mot Manchester City, som avgör vilket som kommer att bli det engelska bidraget i semifinalspelet av turneringen. Richard Burns(@RichardTheBurns), som både poddar och skriver om våra motståndare, berättar här om läget hos klubben som står mellan oss och vår första semifinal på tio år:
1. What is the biggest difference between City this season and the first season with Guardiola in charge?
This is a great question. In one sense, it’s really easy to answer; The biggest difference is that Pep Guardiola went into this season with a full year as City boss already behind him. Last season was a disappointment but it allowed Pep to assess the squad, see who couldn’t adapt to his style and who could but needed work and what areas needed recruitment. So, in a word, the biggest difference is simple – it’s time.
But that time has facilitated all the other areas that you could argue are the biggest individual difference. So, last season allowed the defence to become familiar with positional and passing play that starts with the goalkeeper – from there you could argue that the signing of Ederson is the biggest difference this season – he’s truly revolutionised the way we play and its no exaggeration to say the Premier League has never had a goalkeeper like him. You could apply the same argument to the full-backs. And finally, time has allowed the quality of Pep’s coaching of individuals to shine. David Silva, Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne – all great players who have somehow improved again. Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané are two young players with quality but who could be inconsistent – now they’re both integral to the best team in the league. And then there’s Nicolas Otamendi – he’s less like an improved player and more like a completely new one! So, that’s a long answer to a simple question but it’s the only way to do justice to the improvement we’ve seen.
2. Are there any weaknessess in your side?
In a word, no. The team is strong all over and that is why this season’s results have been so consistently impressive. That said, the fact we play with a high defensive line does mean that if Liverpool can get on the ball – which they will – a fast and direct attack could cause problems. It’s not a weakness, but Liverpool do have it in them to hurt City.
3. Who would you say is the most underrated player in your squad?
Kyle Walker. He has not had a single bad game yet. A lot of people were highly critical of the fee City handed over to Tottenham but the fact is that that one signing made up for seven years of gradually letting our full-back positions become a weakness. Additionally, full-backs are important to Pep and Walker perfectly fits the bill of a tactically shrewd player who can attack and defend. To list his attributes, it sounds like I’m just describing a normal right-back, but he’s so much more and he’s consistent with it.
4. Tell us a bit about your champions league campaign so far.
To be honest it’s been pretty routine so far. Napoli were a very good side and they really tested City when we went there, but we overcame that and it ended up being a game that really demonstrated how far the team has come. They were in trouble early on but worked their way out of it. We’ve had two defeats but they’ve meant nothing – we lost at home to Basel having won the away leg 4-0 and we lost to Shakhtar Donetsk when we’d already won the group.
5. How do you rate your chances of winning the tournament?
The best chance we’ve ever had. I think, objectively, it’s fair to say City are among the very teams in Europe right now. The Premier League will be wrapped up within two weeks so that affords the opportunity to keep players fresh for the Champions League too which works in our favour. But, of course, there are only good teams left in the tournament now and anything can happen. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich – this is their stage and they won’t fear City. And, of course, there’s another team in the way first…
6. What were your thoughts when you drew Liverpool? Were you satisfied with the draw?
…No! It was the draw I didn’t want. I think it’s a shame in the Champions League to be drawn against a team you already play twice a season, and it’s a hard draw. But then again, they’re all hard draws now – even Sevilla or Roma would have been difficult. I think Liverpool will feel confident after the 4-3 win at Anfield in January and Klopp has a very good record against Guardiola – better than any other manager. So there is reason for caution. But from our point of view, the collapse at Anfield came from 10 minutes where we made a raft of individual mistakes that are highly unlikely to occur again.
7. How do you think you will lineup at Anfield and what kind of game do you predict?
I would imagine the defensive partnership with be Otamendi and Kompany. The attacking positions will include Silva, De Bruyne and Sané – Pep might be tempted to leave Sterling out though, he has not looked comfortable on his returns to Anfield. Up front, Agüero should start if he’s fit, but that’s currently unclear. Gabriel Jesus will need to significantly improve on his recent form if he starts – he was really out of form before his injury and hasn’t hit the ground running on his return. The game will be more of what we’ve seen in the two ties this season – fast paced and intense with two teams committed to attractive, attacking football. I cant wait!