After two more jaw-dropping displays this week of Champions League football featuring the two remaining English clubs in their respective semi-final matches, it is Liverpool who will soon find themselves packing their bags for the glittering lights of Paris, while Manchester City are packing their bags for… Manchester.
This is an unexpected follow-up to the first “Battle of the Minds” I previously wrote, mainly because I simply did not expect the current results to be what they are.
Like most football writers/ fans who keep a close eye on the Premier League, I was half expecting another all-English UCL Final showdown between the top two teams in the country. Not because I truly wanted that, but because at the time I thought it seemed the most logical.
Clearly, I was wrong, but I’m glad that I’m wrong because this week’s results only highlight the main talking point I had featured in the previous article, which was “mentality”.
In Manchester City’s two-legged battle against Real Madrid, City were by far the better team. Again.
In Liverpool’s up and down spectacle against the small but proud Villareal, Liverpool struggled with consistency. Again.
City failed to kill their games off, missing crucial chances while Liverpool decided to finally right the ship after dismal first-half performances. Also again.
What one team does well, the other one does not. That’s been the repetitive pattern between number one and number two in the Premier League in recent months, but this time around, however, City were the ones left punished while Liverpool found a way to survive.
Keep It Simple
Without going into great technical detail, let me tell you the main difference between watching Manchester City play and watching Liverpool play.
City is a well-oiled machine. They are fluid, cohesive, and when they’re in control, their players seem almost telepathic with one another. It’s simply beautiful to watch, and Pep Guardiola’s work with his players should be admired.
Liverpool are a bit different. Their midfield and backline have put on some shaky and scattered performances as of late, especially during the first halves of fixtures, and if it wasn’t for the electricity of Luis Diaz, the team’s creativity as a whole would plummet right through the floor. (And the argument should not be can Trent Alexander-Arnold defend, it should be more like does he even want to?)
City play wonderfully, Liverpool play ugly. There I said it.
Here’s why none of that mattered though in the Champions League this week and why Liverpool are the ones still in contention for being crowned Kings of Europe.
It goes back to the theme of this article and the one before: mentality.
Again, I do not know firsthand what either Pep or Jurgen Klopp tells their respective teams at the half or during their pep talks, but based on City’s performances after every time they receive one, I have a feeling Pep over-complicates whatever he says to them.
I’m almost certain that during Wednesday night’s water break in extra time against Real Madrid, when City were down by a goal, Pep was frantically throwing last-minute tactics at his men and complex strategies for them to try and quickly digest, even though the sense of defeat was already creeping in.
Tactics are not a bad choice, tactics are what made Pep Guardiola the extraordinary coach he is today. But tactics and talent can only take you so far.
In the dying minutes of a match, a match where literally everything is on the line and there is nothing but immense pressure, that is when you throw out the playbook and instead insert some sort of cliche line or motivational speech taken directly from Gladiator or 300, to desperately rally your men to go back out and fight.
Keep it focused, keep it simple, because that is exactly what City needed but didn’t have Wednesday evening. Their bodies were still there, going through the motions and making their passes, but their mental spark was gone. You could tell by all their faces they had already accepted their loss.
Klopp’s Reds did the opposite. They came back from their worrying first half in the second leg against Villareal with a determination that was just not there minutes earlier. As soon as Fabinho’s goal went in, the rest came like rapid fire.
Liverpool never looked back and their focus never slipped, despite an entire small city of passionate Spaniards rallying against them.
It was as if they had all simply said to each other “we’re not losing tonight” and that was that; message received, business taken care of.
And that’s how the ugly football advanced and the beautiful football did not.
But What’s Next for Manchester City and Liverpool?
Glancing through Twitter, it seems the whole world is currently laughing at Manchester City’s UCL exit. Literally.
Most likely, Pep and his men are feeling all the feels right now, as they should, because if not, then City have bigger problems than we thought.
Man City are going to need to take all the five stages of grief and channel that energy into completing what’s left on their agenda for the 2021/22 season. There’s still another Premier League title to be won and the opportunity is still there to stop a certain team that wears red from achieving their quadruple.
Anger and resentment can be surprising motivators in the world of sports when processed and used properly. Just ask Mohamed Salah:
There’s still a little bit of time left this season for the mental battle to rage on between Manchester City and Liverpool, but as of the first week of May, it is Liverpool who are winning.