Manchester City and Liverpool are locked in a tense race for the Premier League title, but both could also end up going head-to-head on the continental stage.
Both sides took steps towards reaching the Champions League final this week by beating Spanish clubs in the first legs of their respective semi-finals. City overcame Real Madrid 4-3 in what will go down as an all-time Champions League classic, but will head to Madrid next week knowing that really they should have already put the outcome of the tie beyond doubt.
Pep Guardiola’s side spurned a host of opportunities and were pegged back three times by a resilient Madrid. Liverpool on the other hand cruised to a 2-0 win over Villarreal at Anfield, the Spanish side unable to live with the hosts’ counter-press and rarely troubling Jurgen Klopp’s men. They will travel to Spain next week heavy favourites to finish the job and book a spot in the final.
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On paper, both will make tiring trips to Spain before returning home for league matches a few days later, but as was the case in the quarter-finals, Liverpool have stolen a potentially key advantage over City. City were at their attacking best against Madrid on Tuesday, but defensive mistakes and individual moments of genius from Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior allowed Carlo Ancelotti’s side to turn the game into a breathless basketball match.
That will have been hugely draining for City, and with the tie very much still in the balance, Guardiola will likely have to rest a few players for the tricky trip to Leeds on Saturday. By contrast, Liverpool never had to hit top gear to see off Villarreal, who, while defending resolutely in the first half, never forced Klopp’s side to over-exert themselves.
Klopp should, therefore, be able to name his strongest XI for Saturday’s trip to Newcastle, safe in the knowledge that he should be able to rest a few key men for the return leg in Spain, thanks to the two-goal advantage already secured. That is just not a luxury City have, particularly given the defensive injuries that have plagued them in recent weeks.
With the involvement of Kyle Walker and John Stones against Leeds this weekend, Madrid next week or Newcastle four days after that uncertain, Guardiola may have to start prioritising certain games over others.
There was a similar situation a few weeks ago. City and Liverpool met in the FA Cup semi-final on Easter Saturday, days after City had been involved in a tiring affair with Atletico Madrid. Walker and Kevin De Bruyne picked up injuries that night, while the likes of Rodri and Aymeric Laporte needed a rest.
Meanwhile, Liverpool drew 3-3 with Benfica with an almost entirely changed line-up, having beaten the Portuguese side 3-1 in the first leg. A few days later at Wembley, a much-changed City side were unable to cope with Liverpool’s relentless counter-press, and succumbed to a 3-2 defeat.
Depending on the outcome of the game in Madrid next week and the physical and mental state of his players after it, Guardiola might have to make wholesale changes for the visit of Newcastle four days later. Should that backfire, then Liverpool could snatch the Premier League title from City’s grasp.
City’s squad is not as deep as Liverpool’s and their Champions League task looks to be more demanding, but if there is any group of players that can defy the odds and continue the fight on both fronts then it is Guardiola’s side.
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