Tighter Reds backline no longer conceding 'cheap goals'

LONDON • Liverpool showed they have developed defensive steel alongside their attacking flair, as they withstood waves of Manchester City attacks to emerge 2-1 winners on Tuesday and advance to the Champions League semi-finals.

Ever since their German manager Jurgen Klopp took charge at Anfield 21/2 years ago, critics have questioned whether his team have the necessary defensive nous to go with their devastating forward line.

At the Etihad, Pep Guardiola's team got a boost from a second-minute opener from Gabriel Jesus but Liverpool held firm, and the visitors then completed the job clinically with two second-half goals.

Mohamed Salah scored his 39th goal of the season while Roberto Firmino sealed the victory, sending the Reds through 5-1 on aggregate.

"We mature constantly," Klopp said after the game in which Liverpool became the first team to beat a Guardiola-managed side three times in one season.

Klopp's men also defeated City 4-3 in the English Premier League at Anfield in January.

"The boys are getting more and more used to this. If you could say something about us in the past, on an average day we lose cheap goals. We've worked at (solving that problem)," added the German.

Guardiola played an attacking line-up, with just three defenders against Liverpool's front trio, and the gamble looked as if it might pay off in the first half.

"They took all the risks they could take, we needed a bit of luck and a disciplined defending formation. I was not overly happy at half-time, to be honest," said Klopp. "They could have scored two or three goals in the first half but it was 100 per cent clear that if we won the ball we'd have an opportunity."

As well as a central defence that looks much stronger since the addition of Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk in January and the emergence of Scottish full-back Andy Robertson on the left, Liverpool could again thank unheralded midfielder James Milner.

The former City player not only delivered with his work rate and tackling but added some calmness and authority to the midfield.

Milner, captain in the absence of the suspended Jordan Henderson, thought the win showed the character of Klopp's side.

He said: "To beat them in both games should be a confidence-builder for us. We knew we had to get the ball better and we defended better in the second half."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2018, with the headline 'Tighter Reds backline no longer conceding 'cheap goals''. Print Edition | Subscribe