City, Liverpool look to balance CL aspirations with EPL title race

Updated April 09, 2019

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LONDON: Manchester City players attend a training session at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Monday.—Reuters
LONDON: Manchester City players attend a training session at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Monday.—Reuters

PARIS: Just like last season, Manchester City come up against a Premier League rival in the Champions League quarter-finals.

Different this time are not only the opponents Tottenham Hotspur rather than Liverpool but also the surroundings. City will be Tottenham’s second opponents in their new 62,000-capacity stadium in north London for the first leg on Tuesday.

“I don’t care about the stadium,” City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne said. “I care about the team we play. Everybody talks about the stadium like it’s something special. Everybody has a stadium. Everybody has supporters.”

If De Bruyne sounds irritated it’s not because of the state of City’s campaign. Pep Guardiola’s team remain in a quadruple chase after reaching the FA Cup final with a victory over Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday, having already won the League Cup and sitting second in the Premier League.

The Champions League is the one major honour to elude City in the 11 years since Abu Dhabi investment transformed the club. City haven’t even reached a final, falling at this stage last year to Liverpool, but are the competition’s top scorer this season with 26 goals.

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, in the midst of a draining Premier League title battle with City, are also in action on Tuesday as they welcome FC Porto for the first leg in a tie in which they are heavy favourites to go through.

They remain on course to repeat last season’s run to the final after beating Bayern Munich in the last round. And the quarter-final draw was kind, pairing Liverpool with a team they hammered 5-0 on aggregate in the last 16 last season.

Rarely in the recent history of the competition has it felt quite so important for the hosts in the first leg to make home advantage count as much as it does for Tottenham ahead of City’s visit.

Tuesday’s clash will be the first of three meetings between the clubs in 12 days — Spurs will need a cushion to take to the Etihad Stadium for the return leg, before taking on City again in Manchester in the Premier League on April 20.

“This is a stadium that is going to help us achieve all that we want,” says Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino, but he knows the size of the task facing his team against a City side that scored 72 goals since Boxing Day.

Tottenham are in a scrap just to qualify for a fourth successive season in the Champions League by finishing in the Premier League’s top four. With a squad lacking reinforcements in the last year due to stadium building costs, they are third in the league, but only a point ahead of fifth-placed Chelsea.

While Liverpool will be without banned right back Andy Robertson, Porto have two key players ruled out through suspension: playmaker Hector Herrera and Pepe, the centre-back who won three Champions League titles with Real Madrid.

Coach Sergio Conceicao will still be able to call on centre-back Eder Militao, who doesn’t move to Real until next season, but left back Alex Telles remains doubtful due to a hip injury.

Porto, who last reached the quarter-finals four years ago, are chasing their first appearance in the semi-finals since winning the Champions League under the then-emerging manager Jose Mourinho in 2004.

Fueled by Mohamed Salah’s goals, Liverpool made it to last season’s final, where the five-time European champion were beaten by Real.

The forward has rediscovered his scoring touch in time for the visit of Porto to Anfield, netting for the first time in nine games in a victory at Southampton on Friday. That took Liverpool to the top of the Premier League ahead of City.

Porto are being kept off top spot in Portugal by Benfica due to an inferior goal difference.

Published in Dawn, April 09th, 2019