‘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

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Football -

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

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