‘Liverpool are good but I’d rather mark Salah than Aguero any day’
Kyle Walker is backing City’s champion mentality to see off their big title rivals, writes Jim White
When Manchester City last played at Anfield they were met with quite a reception committee. On its way to the Champions League quarter-final last April, the City team bus was obliged to fight its way through a phalanx of jeering home supporters, a corridor of smoky hostility. All sorts were chucked in the vehicle’s direction as it crawled towards the stadium. But Kyle Walker recalls that, if the hostility was meant to be unnerving, it had quite the opposite effect.
“For me, it was not a problem,” he says, as he sits at Manchester City’s training ground ahead of today’s Premier League fixture between the clubs. “It motivated me and that was it. They want to intimidate you but if you let them, they’ve won before you are even at the ground. I carried on listening to my music, I just had my headphones on as normal. I did the same as I usually do going to Anfield or as I did the other week at Oxford.”
The only thing about Walker’s phlegmatic response is this: Liverpool won that night. As they have done in three of the past four meetings. And he admits there was something of an issue with Jurgen Klopp’s side.
“Coming back to last year, they were our bogey team. It was plain to see,” he says. “But last year has been and gone now. Have to forget about that. We have to go to Anfield and put that to bed.”
He insists that City are aware of what they did wrong, that the weaknesses have been worked on, that the approach will be different.
“There’s loads of reasons why the games didn’t go our way,” he admits. “But one thing was we had five minutes of madness at Anfield when we conceded twice. That’s a learning curve we’ve got to take into the game. They’ve got world-class forwards. If they do score, OK, never mind, let’s not panic or try to rush.”
Walker was born in May 1990, the last time Liverpool won the League title. And he reckons the club have as good a chance to end 29 years of hurt next May as they have at any time since.
“I feel with the way Liverpool are going, they’re a good team now, fantastic manager, great players; individually and collectively. But we’re also a very good team. We’re both fighting for the same thing. Only one of us can do it. Hopefully, it’s us. Hopefully, we can keep producing the records and the results that we have been doing since I’ve been here. That should assure us about keeping going to the end.”
Besides, good as Liverpool are, he is not convinced they are at City’s level. He is certain, for instance, that, as a defender, he would prefer to face their talismanic forward than City’s record goalscorer.
“I’d rather mark [Mohamed] Salah every day of the week. I think Sergio [Aguero] has proved it now and I can assure you, having played against him when I was at Tottenham, he’s a nightmare to play against. You think he’s not interested in the game and all of a sudden [the ball is] in the back of the net. He has that quality.”
This will be the start of an odd week for Walker. He will play at Anfield as a conventional right-back. Then, when he links up with England, he will switch to the right of a three-man central defence. And he is more than happy to admit which role he would prefer.
“I’m a right-back – that’s what I have played since I was 18 and how I practise in training. Obviously, playing for England, I will play in any position, I’ve said that before, but if I could prefer to play one position, then that would be right-back.”
He admits, however, that while the new role has widened his defensive horizons, there are issues with making the switch.
“I think it has helped me with my confidence on the ball and sometimes just putting my foot on it instead of bombing the flank all the time. Sometimes it is difficult, though, practising one trade day-in, day-out for Manchester City and then I go to England and I have got literally two training sessions to transform myself into a right-sided centre-half where I am a lot more controlled and the shape is a lot different.” However, he would rather not change anything. For him, this is the moment, flying with club and country. Which brings him back to the bus. And the reasons Liverpool fans felt the need to give him and his team-mates such a welcome.
“We have to take that as a pat on the back: they thought they needed to do it to try and get under our skins because of the football we were playing last season and the results we were getting,” he says. “That’s maybe something they thought as fans they needed to do, because they needed to help their team in any shape or form.”
Not that it would work if such an approach was tried again. “We’re the champions. We have a point to prove.”
Role play: Kyle Walker says his favourite position is right-back, his regular spot at City