For neutrals or fans of AS Monaco, the Champions League match on Wednesday night was a tremendous occasion full of impressive attacking football. On the other hand fans of Manchester City suffered through a defeat on away goals that further exposed the defensive fragility of this expensively assembled squad and continued the love hate relationship they fans have with the competition.
The question has to be whether City are going to be able to recover their composure and pick themselves up for what will be an extremely difficult domestic tie as they look to qualify for next year’s Champions League and go further than they have this season.
In the aftermath of this defeat, the media have concentrated on which players will be leaving the Etihad at the end of the season but the onus on coach Pep Guardiola will be to put together a side that can respond to the disappointment and overcome Liverpool.
Without the distraction of European football Liverpool have had the time to fully prepare for this tie with coach Jurgen Klopp already intimately aware of the methods of Pep Guardiola following their clashes in German football.
Liverpool come in to this fixture looking to overturn a one point deficit in the league to City, which could prove to be essential by the end of the season given that City also have a game in hand on their North Western neighbours.
The match is also a clash between two of the most tactically interesting coaches in European football; where will the match be won, though?
At the start of this season when City were sweeping all before them domestically, the emphasis of their attacking play lay in the use of both David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne as dual role threats starting in the deeper number eight position before moving forward to operate almost as a double pivot in the number ten role.
As the season has progressed though and the young German winger has found his feet in the English game, we have seen City alter their attacking focus to become more wing orientated with Sane on one side and Raheem Sterling on the other.
Liverpool are still at their strongest in the attacking phase of the game where their pace and movement across the final third cause problems for most teams.
They are still, however, vulnerable in the defensive phase and the time may now be right for Guardiola to fully release his side as an attacking force. The combination of attacking through the wings and overloading the final third in the central area with De Bruyne and Silva sitting high could prove to be too much for Liverpool to handle over the course of a full ninety minutes.
Controlling the tempo of the game could prove crucial given the fast pace preferred by Liverpool and being able to access the final third in advanced central areas and hold the Liverpool defensive block back should eventually see Liverpool worn down.
One of the most notable methods that we have seen from Liverpool this season has been their attempts to overload in to central areas, with the wide attackers both moving in and out of central areas to take possession of the ball and threaten the centre of the oppositions defensive block.
Sadio Mane moves from the right to support the attacker whilst on the left, Coutinho tends to drift back in to central areas in the midfield strata. These inside movements only work when there is adequate support in to the spaces that have been emptied by the wide attackers.
On the right we can expect to see Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne move in the half space and wide area respectively to add depth to the attacking movement on that side of the field. On the left the supporting movements are slightly different. Whilst the left back James Milner provides width on the left we tend to see the Dutch international Giorgino Wijnaldum take up a deeper role than Adam Lallana given the preferred position of Coutinho.
These areas in and around the start of the of the final third of the pitch for Liverpool will be key in installing their high tempo attacking style and controlling the flow of the match. With the central defenders and defensive midfielders for City recently losing form and consistency they can be overloaded and pulled out of position with relative ease with intelligent movement and passing.
At this stage of the season almost every match becomes ‘must win’ this point is even more pertinent when you consider how tight the race for Champions League qualification has become.
Three points for either side in this match gives the winner a significant advantage going in to the final stretch of the season. At the same time, the loser will suffer a blow to their chances of accessing the richest competition in world football.
It will be a test for Pep Guardiola to pick his players up for the match given their performance in the weekm especially against a coach in Jurgen Klopp who is known as a motivational master. We could see a match that is settled by the finest of margins with the first goal likely setting the tone for the rest of the match.
If Liverpool score then they will pick the tempo up even further and look to quickly land the knock out blow. City on the other hand will look to slow the game down and retain possession to frustrate the opposition should they score first.