LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) - When Liverpool beat Manchester City 4-3 in January’s Premier League clash, the question was raised if any other team could follow their method to overcome Pep Guardiola’s side.
Managers have tried everything — playing two lines of defenders, packing the midfield, hitting long balls, counter-attacking, getting physical. Pretty much every tactical approach in the book.
None of them worked.
On Wednesday, Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool did it again, though, producing a blistering first 31 minutes to open up a 3-0 lead they will take into the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
Perhaps there really is only one team in England with the weapons to defeat this Manchester City side, who are 16 points clear in the Premier League.
With Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane in attack, Liverpool possess not just a potent strike force, but, crucially, a trio that can close down defenders and stop City from their favoured route of playing the ball out from the back.
“The boys up front did outstandingly good. You see the really cool, full-of-confidence guys like (Nicolas) Otamendi, (Vincent) Kompany, play these kind of under-pressure back-passes,” Klopp said.
“We used those situations and that gave us the opportunity to win the game,” added the German who now has an unmatched six victories over Guardiola-coached teams.
The pressing from his strikers certainly ruffled City’s defenders but their energy was matched by Klopp’s midfield and their constant harrying and impressive work-rate in the opening 45 minutes.
The often under-rated James Milner made crucial challenges and provided assists for the opening two goals.
Jordan Henderson, whose yellow card means he misses the second leg, was a true midfield general and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose 25-yard screamer made it 2-0, looks a player transformed since his early-season move from Arsenal.
Right back Trent Alexander-Arnold was targeted by City as a weak link, with Guardiola’s side pumping balls wide to winger Leroy Sane, but the 19-year-old coped admirably, showing courage to get forward and good positional awareness when defending.
The centre of defence has long been a weak point of Klopp’s side but there is no doubt that the arrival of Virgil van Dijk has improved the solidity in that area.
In that heady opening-half display, however, it was Klopp’s tactical approach that exposed City.
Attacking with such directness and pace - going for the heart of the opposition defence without hesitation or complication - is an approach others could try to copy.
The results suggest Liverpool are the only team with the talent to play that way.
City need just one more win to be crowned Premier League champions but those rival fans worried about Guardiola’s side enjoying dominance for years to come can certainly take heart from Liverpool’s thrilling win.
Guardiola’s side are wonderful, but not invincible.
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond