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UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

There’s work to do for Manchester City in Madrid, but Liverpool have a foot in the final

There’s work to do for Manchester City in Madrid, but Liverpool have a foot in the final
Liverpool's Sadio Mane (second left) celebrates with teammates after scoring 2-0 during the Uefa Champions League semifinal, first-leg match between Liverpool FC and Villarreal CF in Liverpool, Britain, on 27 April 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / PETER POWELL)

It is advantage to England over Spain after the Uefa Champions League semifinal first legs this week.

The opening clashes pitted English sides Manchester City and Liverpool against Spanish counterparts Real Madrid and Villarreal, respectively — and the action lived up to the billing of excitement aplenty with nine goals scored across the two ties.

City will carry a slim advantage into the second leg in Madrid after recording a 4-3 win in Manchester. Liverpool, on the other hand, recorded a relatively comfortable 2-0 victory over their opponents, with a Pervis Estupiñán own goal and Senegal star Sadio Mané’s strike handing Liverpool the vital lead.

The City-Real game was billed as being a final before the actual final. Whether these are the two best teams in the competition is a matter up for debate, but they did serve up a great game, a seven-goal thriller that will be a classic in Champions League history.

Manchester City’s head coach, Pep Guardiola, reacts during the Uefa Champions League quarterfinal, second-leg match between Atletico Madrid and Manchester City at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid, Spain, on 13 April 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / JUANJO MARTIN)

City, in desperate pursuit of a maiden Champions League crown, started off showing their level of hunger. Pep Guardiola’s men raced into what should have been a comfortable 2-0 lead within 11 minutes of the kickoff. However, the imperious Karim Benzema halved the deficit late into the first half for the 13-time European champions.

The Citizens once again stretched their lead to two goals when Phil Foden struck eight minutes into the second half. However, Los Blancos made it 3-2 when Brazilian Vinicius Junior skinned countryman Fernandinho on the halfway line, before sprinting all the way to City’s goal to slide the ball past another Brazilian, Ederson.

After Bernado Silva once again restored City’s two-goal cushion late on, Benzema chipped home a cheeky penalty with eight minutes to play – leaving the score at 4-3 at the semifinal’s halfway point.

“It was a fantastic game for both sides. We did many good things. Unfortunately, we conceded goals and we could not score more. But it’s two games and we have another one in one week,” said City boss Guardiola.

“We played a fantastic game against an incredible team. The moments where they rose and came back into the game in the first half, we gave them, as our build-up was so nervous. Normally we are so safe and so good. Also, they press really well and are strong.”

Madrid skipper Benzema believes his team has what it takes to overturn the one-goal deficit in front of home support.

“I warn our fans to be ready to see something magical; we will win the second leg at Santiago Bernabeu,” the French forward told Movistar Plus. “Losing is never good and we care a lot about winning the Champions League this season. The good thing is we never lowered our guard and kept fighting until the end.”

The return leg is scheduled for Wednesday 4 May and promises to be another tantalising affair.

Sunk Submarine?

After their 2-0 win, Liverpool will be quietly confident of sealing progress to their second Champions League final in three seasons. The Reds will be buoyed by the fact that, despite the Submarine employing a defensive low block in an attempt to hamper the English opponents, they were able to score two crucial goals.

However, the manager of the six-time European champions Jürgen Klopp believes his side still has work to do when they arrive in Spain next week.

“It is now halftime [in the tie], no more, no less,” Klopp said. “There is still a full job to do; nothing happened yet. The best example is you play a game and it’s 2-0 at half time. You have to be completely on alert in the second half and have to be 100% in the right mood.”

The German master tactician also reserved special praise for Mané, whose goal at Anfield was his 14th in the Champions League knockout stages, tying Chelsea legend Didier Drogba’s Champions League record. Klopp said Mane could be in line to win the Ballon d’Or if Liverpool win the elite tournament.

“If you are not [Lionel] Messi or [Cristiano] Ronaldo, you probably have to win the Champions League, which we haven’t done yet. So, give us a few more weeks and then we will see where we end up,” he said.

The reverse fixtures are set to take place on Tuesday 3 May. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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