Champions League: Is A Man City Comeback in the Cards?

Champions League: Is A Man City Comeback in the Cards? article feature image

It is not likely that Manchester City are about to stage a daring comeback against Liverpool in the second leg of their quarterfinal matchup (kickoff 2:45 p.m. ET). They’re priced at +435 (5dimes) to advance, which is a comically short number. Most projection systems have them somewhere around 6% to overcome their 3-0 deficit and pull off the stunning victory.  Liverpool, on the other hand, is a smart but boring choice at a price of -570. That doesn’t mean Pep Guardiola’s team should be discounted entirely, of course. It was only a season ago when Barcelona came back from a 4-0 first leg defeat to stage an epic 6-5 comeback win over Paris-Saint Germain during the Round of 16. These things occasionally happen.

Guardiola has his own history of avoiding elimination in unlikely fashion. In 2016, Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side were down two goals to Juventus heading into the second half of the tie’s second leg. His team scored in the 73rd and 90th minute to force extra time before ultimately winning, 4-2. Three goals seem impossible, but if any team has the firepower to do it, it’s Manchester City.

On top of that, Liverpool will be without the stalwart base of their midfield, Jordan Henderson, who will be suspended thanks to a late yellow card he picked up. On Saturday, Georginio Wijnaldum played the defensive midfield role, while Henderson played ahead of him, presumably to prepare for the Champions League match. But, playing defensive midfielder against a moribund Everton side, which has spent the season politely declining to take any dynamic attacking opportunity it might accidentally stumble into, is a far cry from playing against City.

And even though City lost again in the Manchester Derby on Saturday, it’s not like its attack is misfiring. After starting with a somewhat experimental lineup of Bernardo Silva as a striker dropping deep into midfield, Guardiola quickly switched things around, swapped Raheem Sterling from the wing to the forward role and pushed Silva out wide. They went into halftime up 2-0 and utterly dominating the game. They lost, 3-2, because Paul Pogba took over the game for two minutes and scored two amazing goals on United’s second and third shot of the match, and then Chris Smalling finished the job from a set piece 15 minutes later. But, over the course of 90 minutes, City had 20 shots and 65% possession. The concentrated defensive lapse was the problem, not the scoring ability.

The problem City are going to face is that because of a three-goal deficit, they’re going to have to take risks. Even playing against a second-choice defensive midfielder, to overrun a good Liverpool defense, they’re going to have to get their own fullbacks and defensive midfielder farther up the field. In effect, the team will have to spend large stretches of time extremely vulnerable to counterattacks and quite undermanned at the back. They’ll be more vulnerable than they were in the first leg when Liverpool scored three goals on them.

And Liverpool’s front three are simply so good. Assuming Mohamed Salah plays, Liverpool will have the most dangerous open field player in the world lacing them up. There is nobody scarier on the wing with the ball at his feet and space to end a defender’s existence. Under normal circumstances, mission one is to take away Salah’s space. But, given the deficit, City are going to have to take their chances with Salah. They’ll need to push forward and trust that when they lose the ball they’ll be able to stop Liverpool before they can get it to him. And, if they don’t, well, they’re going to need their centerback and keeper to step up despite being at the mercy of an attacker who hasn’t been stopped yet.

Ultimately Liverpool are overwhelmingly likely to progress. That shouldn’t be surprising since they head to the Etihad with a 3-0 lead. What makes that match interesting is that Manchester City’s attacking firepower means that it’s actually City’s defense — and Liverpool’s counterattack — that are the biggest reasons the favorites should feel secure.


All odds current as of Monday evening.

Top Photo: Manchester City’s Leroy Sane in action.