Richard Buxton: Klopp’s star soars in Pep’s worst week
City have gone from cruising to calamity in just seven days, Reds looking like the real deal under 'the complete manager'
- Liverpool lead 3-0 after first leg
A week that promised so much for Manchester City threatens to completely unravel with a Champions League quarter-final exit tomorrow morning (Singapore time), leaving Pep Guardiola's previously unassailable majesty in similar ruins.
Last week's first-half humbling by Liverpool had exposed City's vulnerability; the Manchester Derby merely underlined how far removed from the footballing gods this team still remain.
Pressure, no matter how slight, leaves Guardiola's side confronting their mortality.
They need to overcome a three-goal deficit to make the last four of Europe's elite club competition.
A penchant for finding the target three or more times in over half of their 23 games at the Etihad Stadium suggests that the task is not beyond reach.
But this is City, whose notoriety for capitulation and missteps remains so well-steeped that it has become, for all the wrong reasons, one of the game's great art forms.
Three successive managers have now failed to arrest that preceding reputation, with even Guardiola no longer immune after suffering back-to-back defeats for the first time since May 2015.
His opposite number at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow has left the Catalan under no illusions that he may have finally met his match.
Comfortably dismantling the EPL champions-elect twice in in the space of three months has seen Juergen Klopp's stock again on the ascendancy.
Those who see the Liverpool manager at close quarters know there is far more to the frenzied showman for whom a place in the Champions League semi-final beckons.
"He is the complete manager. He is a fantastic team manager, players' manager as well," says Virgil van Dijk.
"Obviously that (interaction with the crowd) stays more in people's minds because that is what you see, but he is much more than that.
"You don't see all the hard work we put in behind the scenes. He has shown already that he is an outstanding manager."
Klopp has primed Liverpool for a long-term tilt at City's throne with his gegenpressing approach now striking a finer balance since the £75 million (S$138.9m) capture of van Dijk.
Their unblemished record of progressing in European ties on the back of a comfortable home win is unlikely to be surrendered as wilfully as Sevilla's comeback from three goals down at the midway point of last November's group-stage encounter.
Much has changed since that night at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. The Reds no longer allow themselves to be consumed by the flames but are insulated against them.
"Every game you have to stand up, it is not only this night," insists van Dijk.
"I think it is only other people who put pressure on me but I don't care really.
"Every game I need to step up and show like every other player that I can do well. That's Liverpool.
"It is not only Tuesday, it was Saturday, the game we played already against City. But those games were definitely a reason why I wanted to play for Liverpool.
"That is clear and I am enjoying every bit of it. I love the club already."