Liverpool showed they have developed defensive steel alongside their attacking flair as they withstood waves of Manchester City attacks to emerge with a 2-1 win and advance 5-1 on aggregate in their Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday.
Ever since their German manager Juergen Klopp took charge at Anfield 2-1/2 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 wounded team got a boost from a second minute opener but Liverpool held firm, with a bit of good fortune at times, and the visitors then completed the job clinically with two second half goals.
“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.
“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 that,” said the German.
Guardiola played an attacking lineup, 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 halftime to be honest,” said Klopp.
“They could have scored two or three goals in the first half but it was 100 percent clear that if we won the ball we’d have an opportunity.
“It’s not about perfection it’s about the result, the character, the mentality, really fighting for the result. We defended well, it’s not our best game but we deserved it at the end,” he added.
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 Manchester City player, viewed by many as simply a squad player at the start of the season, not only delivered with his work-rate and tackling but clearly 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.
“It says a lot about the boys that we soaked up that pressure in the first half that got the crowd up,” 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.”