Champions League takeaways: Liverpool advances after controversy

Soccer analyst James Sharman discusses Liverpool’s very impressive Champions League victory over powerhouse Man City, to reach the semis, and says there’s no reason to believe they can’t win it all.

• Manchester City 1 (Jesus 2’), Liverpool 2 (Salah 56’, Firmino 77’)


Liverpool survived an early surge by Manchester City (and benefited from a hugely controversial decision by the referee) to finish off the would-be Premier League champions and advance to the UEFA Champions League semifinals.


1. Perfect start for Man City
It took the home side less than two minutes to open the scoring, and it came off a poor play by Virgil van Dijk. Liverpool’s Dutch defender was being chased down deep in his half by Raheem Sterling when he let up for a second because he felt he was fouled, before making a botched clearance. Man City pounced, turning on the speed in the counter, and taking full advantage of van Dijk not getting back into position. Within seconds, the ball was back at the feet of Sterling, who burst into the box and rolled a pass across to Gabriel Jesus and the Brazilian slotted it home.

It was the first goal Liverpool conceded in 362 minutes in Champions League play and not since Matchday 5 against Sevilla had the Reds’ goal been breached. Sterling deserved credit for his starring role in creating the goal, first in forcing van Dijk to make the turnover, and then quickly making the transition from defender to attacker in setting up Jesus. It was exactly the type of start needed by the Citizens, who were still reeling from last week’s 3-0 loss at Anfield in the opening leg.

2. Sane’s goal incorrectly ruled out
Man City looked to double their advantage just before halftime when Leroy Sane appeared to have scored during a goal-mouth scramble between the two sides. However, Sane’s glory was short-lived, as his goal was incorrectly ruled for offside – replays showed Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius’ clearance came off teammate James Milner before Sane, who was in an offside position, slotted it in.

Manager Pep Guardiola let his feelings be known in no uncertain terms when speaking to Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz after the halftime whistle. For his efforts, Guardiola was forced to watch the second half from the stands.

What would’ve happened had Sane’s goal stood? City would’ve only been down a goal on aggregate, and the pressure surely would have been on Liverpool in the second half. Could they have completed the comeback? We’ll never know.

3. Liverpool full credit for victory
No doubt about it that Liverpool benefited from the contentious call that ruled out Sane’s goal for Manchester City. But Guardiola’s side can have no complaints about Tuesday’s result or the final outcome – the Reds were the better team over the two legs.

For all the intensity of their attacking play after taking an early lead, Manchester City lacked a precision in the final third of the pitch. Liverpool’s bend-but-don’t-break defence held firm after Jesus’s early goal, as van Dijk quickly settled down in anchoring a back line that kept the game in front of them and didn’t look as though it would be unlocked for a second time.

The Reds grew into the game as the second half progressed, as they began to ask more questions of City’s defence through the attacking trio of Sane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. Some sloppy defending by the home side opened the door for Salah to deservedly pull Liverpool level, and Firmino was ruthless in taking advantage of an error by City’s Nicolas Otamendi to score the winner and settle the aggregate series in the Reds’ favour.


56’ GOAL! Manchester City 1, Liverpool 1: Even after having Sane’s goal ruled out, City looked to be in full control at the start of the second half. But then Salah and Sadio Mane linked up, with the Egyptian arriving in the box after Manchester City couldn’t clear its lines and rounded goalkeeper Ederson Moraes before chipping his shot into the back of the net. Game over.



This Manchester City was built to go far in the Champions League. But once again, the Citizens bowed out in the early stages after an abject performance over two legs. How is it that a team that spent millions on defenders during the last two transfer windows had such problems defending against Liverpool? Aymeric Laporte was poor over the two legs, and Moraes was suspect in spilling the shot that led to Salah’s goal. How is that Guardiola, regarded as one of the best managers in club soccer, hasn’t reached the Champions League final during his five seasons in charge of Bayern Munich and Manchester City?



Sadio Mane, Liverpool: He had a hand in setting up Salah’s tying goal, and effectively linked up with the Egyptian throughout the contest. He was a constant thorn in the side of Manchester City defenders with his speed, nimble footwork and acceleration off the dribble.

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