Bat­tle of Bri­tain could be won by a Dutch­man

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - STEPHEN HUNT

FOR­GET all the world-class at­tack­ing tal­ent that is go­ing to be on show for both teams in the Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter-fi­nal matches be­tween Liver­pool and Manch­ester City. It is a de­fender who could make all the dif­fer­ence.

The one player who could win it for Liver­pool is their record sign­ing Vir­gil van Dijk. The Dutch cen­tre-half has not been a com­plete suc­cess since his £75m move from Southamp­ton but he is a gi­ant, he has a pres­ence and he has a rep­u­ta­tion for stand­ing up in the big games and per­form­ing.

Alexis Sanchez has flopped since his move from Ar­se­nal to Manch­ester United but I felt he had a big game in him and he would per­form against Sevilla. Boy, was I wrong about that.

Van Dijk might not be able to guar­an­tee a clean sheet for Liver­pool — in fact I would say that is very un­likely for both teams in the two games — but he can have two big in­flu­en­tial games for Liver­pool, al­beit at the other end of the pitch to Sanchez, just by be­ing him­self. He is the Rio Fer­di­nand of the mod­ern day, a de­fender who can break up the lit­tle one-twos and win back pos­ses­sion with his per­cep­tive read­ing of the game.

What Pep Guardi­ola and the Manch­ester City play­ers have cre­ated this sea­son has left ev­ery­one else stand­ing in the Premier League and it is a real shame that the two re­main­ing English sides have been drawn against each other in the quar­ter-fi­nal stage of the Cham­pi­ons League.

It is the worst pos­si­ble draw for Liver­pool be­cause they get to see, week in, week out, just how good this City team are. If they had drawn Real Madrid, for ex­am­ple, there would not be that same fear fac­tor be­cause they don’t have to watch them ev­ery week.

An­other po­ten­tial blow for Jurgen Klopp is that the first leg is at An­field. I know Liver­pool can go to City for the sec­ond leg feel­ing un­der no pres­sure, but be­ing the home side in the sec­ond game suits Liver­pool. An­field is a spe­cial place on Euro­pean nights — there have been some amaz­ing nights at Liver­pool over the years, like that vic­tory over Olympiakos, and Steven Ger­rard’s in­cred­i­ble equaliser to send them through.

There will def­i­nitely be goals in the two games, from both teams, and it will be a fas­ci­nat­ing bat­tle in terms of the at­tack­ing play and the tal­ent on dis­play. It has the po­ten­tial to be the best ever Euro­pean game be­tween two British sides.

Go­ing for­ward, they both fear no­body. But will Klopp be wor­ried about his goal­keeper or how the de­fence will cope with City? Of course he will.

But the one thing Klopp won’t do is put out a Jose Mour­inho-style team which will be in­tended to sti­fle City. He will still go af­ter them and I sus­pect it won’t bother him if he con­cedes an early goal in the first leg — and vice versa for City. Away goals could be de­ci­sive, and ul­ti­mately I think City will just about pre­vail.

Look­ing at the other quar­ter-fi­nal ties, I think Real Madrid, Bay­ern Mu­nich and Barcelona will go through.

Ju­ven­tus will be look­ing for re­venge on Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and co af­ter last sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal and the Ital­ian side have done well to get to the last eight, over­com­ing Tot­ten­ham in the round of 16.

It is go­ing to need an­other de­fen­sive mas­ter­class from Juve to get through,, how­ever, even if Real Madrid are not fir­ing on all cylin­ders this sea­son and have not matched the stan­dards they set on their way to win­ning the com­pe­ti­tion a year ago.

Real are more ruth­less than Spurs. I can­not see the reign­ing cham­pi­ons mak­ing the same mis­takes as Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino’s team over two legs.

The team that all the other seven will have wanted from the draw was Sevilla af­ter their stun­ning win over Manch­ester United at Old Traf­ford. That re­sult doesn’t change the fact that Sevilla are not a very good team. United only had them­selves to blame for crash­ing out. I do not see Bay­ern Mu­nich mak­ing the same mis­takes as United.

And where would Barcelona be with­out Lionel Messi? I can just about re­mem­ber his magic against Chelsea through the haze of a long day at Chel­tenham. He is still ca­pa­ble of ris­ing to a dif­fer­ent level when he needs to.

When Messi is in the mood, es­pe­cially in the Nou Camp, any team can for­get it. There is no chance if he is skip­ping past peo­ple as if they are not there or run­ning with the ball, play­ing one-twos, stick­ing the ball through keep­ers’ legs.

Rio Fer­di­nand said last week that no one could lay a fin­ger on Messi when he played against Manch­ester United in the 2011 Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal.

And if he says that, you can only imag­ine what it must be like to face Messi on the pitch.

Bay­ern Mu­nich won’t make the same mis­takes as United

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