MANCHESTER, April 10 ― “In football, anything can happen,” said Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with a shrug, as he looked ahead to today's Champions League quarter-final second leg where his team have to overcome a 3-0 deficit against Liverpool.
It is a truism, of course, and neither Guardiola nor his Liverpool counterpart Juergen Klopp will need to wrack their brains too hard to think of examples where a three-goal lead ― or more ― has been overturned in European competition.
Former Barcelona player and manager Guardiola still describes himself as a “fan” of the Spanish club and will need no reminding of how his old team progressed to the quarter-finals last season.
Paris St Germain beat Barca 4-0 at the Parc des Princes in their last 16, first leg game only to be eliminated after a remarkable 6-1 win for the Catalans at the Nou Camp where three of the goals came in the final minutes of the game.
Klopp frequently notes how the club's history has little impact on his team but his team's fans understand more readily than most how fragile a three-goal lead can be.
The Anfield faithful still celebrate one of the great football comebacks ― the night they won the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul on penalties against AC Milan after trailing 3-0 to the Italians at half-time.
Even this season, Klopp and his players themselves experienced how easily a three-goal advantage can disappear in European football.
They were 3-0 up at halftime in Sevilla in their group stage match in November but ended up drawing 3-3 after a second-half comeback was completed with an added-time equaliser from Guido Pizarro.
The German manager's reaction after that second-half collapse could serve as the perfect warning to his team ahead of their trip to the Etihad.
“It is not allowed to become passive in a game like this. Because of that, the second half is too long ― 50 minutes or longer. It's not the first time it has happened in football and it won't be the last time,” he noted then.
What makes today's game particularly fascinating is that City boast an attack more than capable of ripping apart Liverpool's defence ― as they showed with their 5-0 Premier League win over Klopp's men in September.
But as Guardiola's team demonstrated again on Saturday, giving up a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to Manchester United, they have a defensive fragility that a clinical forward line like Liverpool's can exploit ― especially if Mohamed Salah wins his battle to be fit.
City will attack from the outset but, not having scored an away goal, a single strike from the visitors today could be calamitous for them ― and Liverpool are particularly effective on the counter-attack.
Guardiola said his side will need to produce “the perfect game” but Klopp is wary of the danger in even an imperfect performance.
“There is no perfect football team in the world. The game doesn't give you the chance to be perfect. I knew before they can concede goals and we can concede goals and lose,” he said yesterday.
“You have always the chance to respond and to strike back. City has the chance too. We have the chance to win the game. Most of the people think Liverpool will go through but will lose the game. We have the chance to win.” ― Reuters