The second leg of the Manchester City – Liverpool Champions League quarterfinal will not only decide which English team will make it to the semis, it will also have a great impact on the legacy of the man who revolutionized world soccer during the second half of the previous decade.
Pep Guardiola is perhaps the most important figure in the process that transformed Barcelona from a big European team to a mega club, the most popular brand in the game of soccer.
Under his four year term, Barcelona perfected the style we refer to as Tiki Taka. He led the Catalan team to numerous titles including two Champions League trophies. The backbone of the team he built, under his vision, kept leading the club to success long after he left.
But while Barcelona has been succeeding, Guardiola has been struggling, at least in regards to the expectations.
Guardiola’s teams have not gone past the Champions League semifinals since the last time he did it with Barcelona, back in 2011, and unless City find a way to turn around that 3:0 result from the first leg at Anfield, Guardiola will not even make it to the final four this season.
The worrying trend for Guardiola comes from the fact that his teams enjoy a great run in the early stages of the season, only to find it much harder in the late stages, when they face the big guns of the Champions League.
This was the case in each of his three seasons at Bayern Munich. The Bavarian team easily won the German championship but was knocked out in the semifinals of the European competition, each time by a different member of the top Spanish trio.
At least for now, this seems to be the case this season as well. Manchester City practically secured the Premier League title midway through the season. It’s a very impressive achievement, but Manchester City and Bayern Munich did not hire Guardiola to win in the domestic leagues, they brought him for European success, and so far he has not delivered.
Does this mean it is all but decided and Liverpool can already start preparing for the semifinal? Absolutely not. Manchester City are capable of turning things around, and they already beat Liverpool 5:0 early in the season. But it will be an extremely difficult test for them.
The Mighty Reds are an outstanding offensive team with an average of almost 2.5 goals per match in the Premier League and nearly four goals per match in the Champions League. With the away goals format, if they score just once it would most probably seal the deal.
The history between the two managers, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, also favors Liverpool. Out of all the managers who coached ten or more games against Guardiola’s teams, Klopp is the only one with a positive record, winning seven of the 13 matches held between them.
Guardiola won just five, one more ended in a draw. It is even more impressive considering the fact Klopp did it with Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund while Guardiola was managing Manchester City and Bayern Munich, far superior than Klopp’s teams in every aspect.
With the other three quarterfinals practically decided, this is surely one game to watch. In the three matches held between these two clubs this season, no less than 15 goals were scored, an average of five per match.
Liverpool is not a team that can play for a goalless draw, with a rather slow defense they don’t have the character or the ability to do it. Manchester City on the other hand have no choice but push constantly forwards leaving their backcourt open for Liverpool’s fast strikers to counter attack.
Unless City finds a way to turn things around, the doubts regarding the club and its manager would persist. It would look like the PSG story all over again, a club that invests hundreds of millions of dollars only to find out that there are still certain things money can’t buy. Character is one of them. Liverpool has got tons of that, Manchester City have yet to prove it.