Kevin De Bruyne says winning the Champions League would "change the perspective" through which people view Manchester City, as Pep Guardiola's team prepare to face Real Madrid in the second leg of their semi-final tie.

De Bruyne opened the scoring in City's thrilling 4-3 first-leg win over Carlo Ancelotti's team at the Etihad Stadium last week, but Karim Benzema's double means the encounter remains in the balance.

The Belgium international has won 10 domestic trophies since joining the club in 2015, though European success has so far evaded Guardiola's men, who lost last season's final to 1-0 to Chelsea.

Before travelling to the Santiago Bernabeu for Wednesday's second leg, the in-form playmaker, who has contributed 15 goals and 12 assists in all competitions this term, acknowledged a European title would alter the way the club is viewed.

"It would change the perspective," De Bruyne, who went off injured in last year's final, said at a pre-match news conference. "As a player, you want to win trophies, and we want this one.

"We have fought for it for numerous years and been to the latter stages, and we have been doing well.

"Obviously, it’s a cup competition and the quality is really high, so it's very difficult to win it and there are different circumstances, but if you look at how we have performed in the last seven years, we've done really well. If we win it, it would change the narrative."

However, De Bruyne refuted claims that the team needed to win the competition, highlighting the quality of City's competitors and saying he was happy with his own accomplishments.

"For myself. It doesn't change how I look at myself as a player. I know what I have done: good and bad in my career. I'm pretty happy with what I have done," he added.

"Obviously, I want to win every trophy but that's a hard task. I would obviously love to win the Champions League."

De Bruyne has registered 18 Champions League assists since making his first City appearance in the competition in September 2015, a tally that is only bettered by Neymar (25) and Kylian Mbappe (20) during that time.

Meanwhile, City's first-leg success over Los Blancos was only the second semi-final first leg in Champions League history to see seven goals scored (along with Liverpool 5-2 Roma in 2017-18), but the midfielder said his team would need to be at their best to make their advantage count.

"I think if we play the way we played last week, we have the potential to be one of the best teams, but we have to show that," he added. "If we play below that, Madrid can win because they are also one of the best teams, and the quality they have is amazing.

"But I back my team to perform at the high level needed to win the game. I think we are in a very good way. The fact we have not won it yet is the only criticism we can get. The rest, we have been there loads of times, fighting to win it.

"I remember when we played [against Madrid in the 2015-16 semi-finals] it wasn't the greatest end to the season. Madrid was a powerhouse at that time. We are in better shape now. I think we are a better team with a better set-up, we play better, and we have more experience. Hopefully, we are better prepared.

"It's two attacking teams who like to play football. We played a very good game [last week] but that's in the past. We have a different game ahead of us tomorrow and it starts back to 0-0 so we need our A-game to win."

City have won their last three Champions League matches against Los Blancos – only two sides have ever won four in a row against them in European competitions, with Ajax doing so between 1973 and 1995 and Bayern Munich replicating that achievement between 2000 and 2002.

Kevin De Bruyne now considers Phil Foden simply "one of the guys" at Manchester City and hopes the 21-year-old can play a decisive role against Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Foden was long seen as the most promising young prospect at City but had to wait for his opportunity to feature regularly in Pep Guardiola's first team.

Although the midfielder made his senior debut in the 2017-18 season, he was kept on the fringes for his first two years.

Even in 2019-20, when making 38 appearances, scoring eight goals and assisting nine, Foden was restricted to just 18 starts.

Since then, though, the England international has gone from strength to strength, following up 26 goal involvements last term (16 goals, 10 assists) with another 24 this time out (13 goals, 11 assists).

Foden netted against Madrid at the Etihad Stadium in a 4-3 first-leg win in City's Champions League semi-final, and De Bruyne believes his team-mate can make another important contribution in the return leg.

"He's been amazing," De Bruyne said. "I've seen him from a little boy who had massive potential.

"Whenever you come up to a first team, you are a little bit shy, and it takes time and more playing time to get comfortable in that situation.

"But the last two years he has been in a very comfortable situation, and you see the difference in the way that he plays. He's not a young talent any more, he's one of the guys.

"It's a big step to make, but now everybody looks at him to make a difference because he can. He's proven that lots of times, and he probably will do much, much more for this club in the future.

"I'm hoping he does the same that he's been doing. If you're playing constantly very well, that is all you can do. He doesn't play with ups and downs, he just does what he needs to do for the team."

De Bruyne has had to rediscover that consistency himself after enduring a tough start to the season following an ankle injury that he initially tried to play through.

The Belgium midfielder did not look his usual self as he scored only three goals and provided a single assist in his first 17 club matches of the campaign.

However, since then, De Bruyne has 12 goals and 11 assists in 23 outings, including the opening goal in the first leg against Madrid.

"The first months [of the season] were really hard," he added. "I've never experienced the pain I had.

"I was trying to come back, but it wasn't something I enjoyed. Mentally, it was hard to overcome.

"Once the pain was gone, I started to feel more confident in myself, in my body, to get back to where I belong. Now, playing all these games, I feel back to the level I was before.

"I try to be as consistent as I can, and this year I've done that."

Pep Guardiola acknowledged Manchester City have to improve defensively if they are to overcome Real Madrid and reach the Champions League final for the second successive year.

City take a 4-3 lead into Wednesday's semi-final second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu following a thrilling contest in Manchester last week.

Premier League leaders City held a two-goal lead on three separate occasions but, inspired by Karim Benzema, Madrid ensured the tie remains firmly alive.

City will be boosted at the back for the return fixture, however, as Joao Cancelo returns from suspension and Kyle Walker is expected to be fit to feature.

The England international has not played since injuring his ankle against Atletico Madrid last month, but he was back in training on Tuesday and is part of City's squad.

And Guardiola, who confirmed John Stones is injured, accepts that City must be stronger at the back if they are to see out the job.

"Probably, we have to be better but we can play much worse than we played and we can win," he told a news conference.

"Sometimes you get what you don't deserve, sometimes you don't get what you deserve. We have to perform incredibly well and win the game.

"Last week's game is in the past. The tie is 180 minutes. We try to do better than what we have done. We go there for that and everyone is ready to try to do it."

Pushed on whether he expects Walker to be ready to start, Guardiola added: "He trained, he'll travel and we decide tomorrow. I'm happy he's back."

City had registered clean sheets in their previous four knockout matches, keeping Sporting CP and Atletico quiet in the last 16 and quarter-finals respectively.

The 26 shutouts City have kept across 53 games this season is the third-most of any side from Europe's top five leagues, behind Chelsea (27) and Liverpool (31).

Reflecting on last week's tie, the joint-highest scoring first leg in Champions League semi-final history, Guardiola said: "It was a lovely open game.

"The fact the teams scored seven goals between them. We were happy, we could have maybe got a better result but also a lot worse. 

"You look at it, recover the next day, analyse it in the cold light of day. For better or worse we always knew this would be over two games. 

"The Etihad and the Bernabeu. To knock Madrid out you have to perform well over two games."

Guardiola has won four Champions League matches against Madrid – only Ottmar Hitzfeld has won more (seven) – with two of those wins for the Catalan coming at the Bernabeu.

In the opposite dugout is Carlo Ancelotti, who last week celebrated becoming the first manager to win each of Europe's top five leagues.

Guardiola praised Ancelotti for his achievement but insisted Madrid's players will not have lost focus.

"Congratulations to him for winning the Spanish league," said Guardiola, who won three LaLiga titles with Barcelona. "I did it, he did it last week. 

"I admire him. He's been all over the world, big football countries and fantastic teams. It's always incredibly tough, the football is really good. 

"Part of that is he's an exceptional person. Every time with him he's calm, controls his emotions perfectly."

Should City complete the job, they will become the fourth English side to reach consecutive European Cup or Champions League finals.

But Guardiola conceded the experience of competing regularly in the latter stages of the competition does not guarantee lessons have been learned.

"Experience... the question is what to learn from the experience," he said. "You could make the same mistakes. It's completely different, it's difficult to compare to last season. 

"How will the guys wake up tomorrow? The fact we've been there quite often in the last years, we've been here and done well and know how to handle the situation. 

"But it's not a guarantee to play good. They know we have to perform well and our best to reach the final."

Carlo Ancelotti knows Real Madrid must produce a "complete" performance against Manchester City to reach the Champions League final, as he confirmed David Alaba is out of the second leg.

Madrid were beaten 4-3 by Premier League leaders City in a thrilling first leg at the Etihad Stadium last week.

Los Blancos responded to that defeat by thrashing Espanyol 4-0 on Saturday to win their 35th LaLiga title in style.

Ancelotti, who is the first coach to have triumphed across all of Europe's big five leagues and has stated that Madrid will be the last club he coaches, believes his side have a great chance to overturn a deficit when they face Pep Guardiola's side at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday if they are their very best.

The wily Madrid boss told reports on the eve of the match: "The game has to be complete. The low block has to be better than the first leg, the pressure has to be well done to avoid passes between lines and transitions. 

"We are not going to propose a game with a low block, that's for sure, but at some moments of the game it will be. The game has to be complete."

According to Ancelotti, Madrid will be without Alaba due to a hamstring injury, despite the Austria defender having been named in the squad. However, he has faith in Nacho Fernandez to perform.

He said: "Alaba can't play. I don't have doubts, it will possibly be a long game too but it's not so important who starts as it is who finishes it.

"The defence system is the same. Alaba is an important player but Nacho's played very well this season. He's experienced and I'm sure he'll put on a good performance tomorrow."

Another player who will start is Casemiro and Ancelotti expects the fit-again Brazil midfielder to make Los Blancos much more difficult to break down.

The Italian said: "His return is going to help us, it reinforces the defensive aspect, in which we have to improve, also in collective commitment, moving better as a block, being more compact 

"We have worked on the defensive aspect. I think we will see improvement."

Madrid have been crowned European champions a record 13 times, but Ancelotti believes that will count for nothing when they attempt to reach yet another final.

"History won't have an impact tomorrow," he said: "It will be different, each game has its own history. They have an edge and we are aware of it.

"We have to do our best. It will be a tough game but we've got an incredible opportunity to play another Champions League final and we've already won the league, so the atmosphere will be good and it's something we can pull off."

Real Madrid have to demonstrate that they are "the best team in the world" when they take on Manchester City for a place in the Champions League final, so says Luka Modric.

The meeting between the sides in Manchester last week was only the second semi-final first leg in Champions League history to see seven goals scored, after Liverpool beat Roma 5-2 in 2017-18.

Premier League leaders City hold a slender, 4-3 advantage heading to the Santiago Bernabeu and have progressed in nine of the previous 10 Champions League two-legged knockout ties when they have won the first leg.

Madrid have been eliminated in all five previous semi-finals in the competition when they have lost the first leg, but Los Blancos have progressed from two of their last three knockout ties when losing the first leg, including their remarkable comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in March.

Modric played a key role in that victory and in their quarter-final revival against Chelsea, and the mercurial 36-year-old was in bullish mood in Tuesday's pre-match news conference.

"The atmosphere in the locker room is very good. We are really looking forward to it. We know what we have to do, it is the most important game of the season," said Modric, who celebrated winning a third LaLiga title of his career on Saturday when Madrid beat Espanyol to clinch their 35th domestic crown.

"We are very confident that we will come back. We know that in the first leg we did not play our best game, but we still scored three goals. We have to do better, and I am sure of it."

 

Modric believes that Madrid's prestigious history can play its part in pushing Carlo Ancelotti's team on to reaching the final for the first time since 2018.

He said: "What do we have? Quality, a lot of character. The history of this club also plays a part. The club, which is the one with the most titles in the Champions League [13].

"All this influences a lot. We never give up. The club has taught us this since we got here. We have to show that we are Real Madrid, the best team in the world."

Modric played a pivotal role in Madrid winning three successive Champions League titles between 2015-16 and 2017-18, while he also helped win 'La Decima' during Ancelotti's first spell in 2013-14.

"I'm sure it's important. It's nice to remember that we've already won four Champions Leagues, some with a chance of reaching our fifth final," Modric said when asked if that experience was crucial against City, who have only reached one final, losing last season to Chelsea, before scoffing at the suggestion Madrid had been lucky in the past.

"To be here and win this many Champions Leagues, it's not just luck. It makes us laugh a little, although everyone can say what they want.

"We are focused on what we do and we don't care what they say outside. To get to this point year after year, beating great rivals and winning titles, you have to have more than luck: character, personality, faith. This is what makes us win."

Liverpool fans are a creative bunch, particularly when it comes to making up songs for their idols.

The latest favourite of the Kop is a little ditty about Jurgen Klopp to the tune of 'I feel fine' by The Beatles, though it has also been re-worked to be about the Reds' manager's wife Ulla after her husband revealed the part she played in convincing him to sign a new deal at Anfield.

While Klopp appreciates the sentiment, he has always said he prefers to hear songs about his players, and there are plenty of those too.

You have to be quite a special player to get your song before you have even signed for the club, though, and it was testament to the excitement around the arrival of Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich in 2020 that not only did he already have a song by the time he was signed, but he even whistled it in his own announcement video.

It is a fairly simple number, as most of the best football songs are, where fans just sing "Thiago, Thiago Alcantara!" to the tune of 'Cuba' by the Gibson Brothers.

Arguably the best part about it, though, was the accompanying video that found its way onto social media, which showed Thiago's head superimposed over a woman walking by, while three men, made up to be Klopp, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, danced in the background.

Reds fans certainly feel like dancing right now, seeing their team still in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple in early May, with the EFL Cup already in the bag, and Thiago is very much at the centre of the march on the remaining three fronts in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.

The 31-year-old had a tricky first season in England, having to contest with playing in stadiums with no fans, then picking up an injury that kept him out for several months, before returning to a team whose season had fallen apart after practically the entire defence had also been wiped out by injury.

Thiago showed his class by the end of the campaign to help Liverpool qualify for the Champions League, and although some still cast doubt on his suitability for Klopp's team, he has certainly proven his importance this year as the Merseysiders look to cement their legacy as one of the best teams of all time.

He has continued to suffer from injury issues, and has so far only managed to start in 15 of Liverpool's 34 Premier League games, but it is clear to see the difference he makes when he is available.

In those 15 games, Liverpool have won 14 (93 per cent) and drawn one, which was the recent 2-2 at title rivals Manchester City. When Thiago has not been in the starting XI, the Reds have won 11 of those 19 outings (58 per cent), drawing six and losing two.

They have conceded just four times in the 15 games he has started, compared to 18 in the games without, while averaging 2.9 goals for per game when he starts opposed to 2.3 when he does not.

It is only really of late that the player has been getting recognition for his impact, which is not entirely surprising as he has certainly stepped things up in recent games.

It is not the first time he has done so towards the business end. In 2019-20, his final season at Bayern, he came through to play a crucial role in the German giants' run to the Champions League final, starring in the 1-0 win against Paris Saint-Germain in Lisbon as the Bavarians went on to win a Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League treble.

Thiago has finally been able to put a run of games together at Liverpool without being interrupted by injury, and Klopp's team are very much reaping the benefits.

He is not a player you particularly want to measure by numbers alone, such is the beauty with which he plays the game when in top form, but it is equally hard to ignore the increase in his figures of late.

Having not even attempted 100 passes in a game this season beforehand, in his last three starts, Thiago attempted 113 against Manchester United, completing 108, attempted 121 against Everton, completing 119, and attempted 103 against Villarreal, completing 99, as Liverpool went on to win all three with relative ease, not conceding any goals.

Speaking of which, it is not just his passing that makes him one of the best midfielders in the game. He has also shown the best of his defensive ability, particularly in the Champions League.

Of midfielders to have attempted at least 10 tackles in the competition this season, only Villarreal's Giovani Lo Celso (86.67) and Thiago's Liverpool team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (83.33) have better tackle success percentage than his 81.82.

As well as increasing his already impressive medal haul, one other inspiration for producing such fine form could be Thiago wanting to give Spain boss Luis Enrique something to think about ahead of the World Cup later this year.

La Roja will be among the favourites in Qatar, though such are the riches in midfield they can boast, Thiago has found himself largely out of the squad since last year's rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament, where he only played 66 minutes as Spain reached the semi-finals.

During the tournament when questions were raised as to why the former Bayern and Barcelona man was not featuring more, Luis Enrique said: "Thiago is a very good player. You know and everybody knows about his quality, but we are a strong team and I try to give them minutes.

"He's helping the squad a lot because he's an experienced player and we are very happy to have him in the squad.

"After that, I have to decide and my decision speaks much better than me."

It could be that the Spain head coach is trying to leave space for young prospects such as Pedri and Gavi to come through, but at a major tournament like the World Cup, you would imagine those two and others could only prosper from sharing a squad with someone like Thiago.

The player's club boss certainly thinks so, with Klopp telling reporters at a news conference ahead of Liverpool's Champions League semi-final second leg in Villarreal: "When Thiago is in the shape he's in now, he would play for any team in the world and that is Spain as well.

"They are an incredibly talented team but the shape he's in, he'd play for every national team. Thiago needs to be fit and gain rhythm and he can show his best form."

Thiago will take to the field in Spain on Tuesday to try and guide himself and his team to another Champions League final, with Liverpool leading the Yellow Submarine 2-0 from the first leg.

As he has proven in recent weeks, Thiago's best form is quite a thing to witness, and whether it is in the red of Liverpool or the red of Spain, it is well worth singing about.

Real Madrid and Villarreal have it all to do when they host Manchester City and Liverpool respectively in the second legs of their Champions League semi-final ties in midweek.

Fresh off the back of winning a second LaLiga title in three seasons, Madrid are aiming to overturn a 4-3 deficit against City following last week's thrilling first leg in Manchester.

That was the joint-highest scoring semi-final first leg in the competition's history, along with Liverpool 5-2 Roma in 2017-18, and more drama awaits in the Spanish capital.

Villarreal face an even bigger task, meanwhile, as they trail Liverpool 2-0 through an unfortunate Pervis Estupinan own goal and a Sadio Mane strike at Anfield.

However, only once before have the Reds won both legs of a knockout stage tie against Spanish opposition in the Champions League or its former guise as the European Cup.

So will it be an all-English final in Paris on May 28, or can the LaLiga pair turn things around on home turf?

Ahead of the second legs, Stats Perform digs into some of the best Opta numbers around the two semi-final ties.


Villarreal v Liverpool

To put the size of Villarreal's task into some perspective, only once before – Liverpool versus Barcelona in 2019 – has a team overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit at this stage of the Champions League.

Villarreal are unbeaten at home in Champions League knockout ties, albeit having won just two of their seven such games. The bad news, though, is that across those seven matches, neither side has managed to score more than once on any occasion.

If they are to have any hope of advancing then Unai Emery's men need to display far more attacking impetus than was on show last week, having attempted only one shot and failed to hit the target at Anfield. The last team to fail to record a shot on target across two legs of a Champions League semi-final was Deportivo de La Coruna in 2003-04, against Jose Mourinho's Porto.

Should Liverpool see the job through, they will become only the fourth side to reach the final of the European Cup/ Champions League on 10 or more occasions after Real Madrid (16), Bayern Munich and Milan (both 11), with their current tally of nine the most of any English side.

Jurgen Klopp's side have been formidable on the road in Europe this season, scoring 15 goals and conceding five across their five away Champions League matches, all of which have ended in victory. Should they win on Tuesday, they will boast the longest 100 per cent away record by any team in a single European Cup or Champions League campaign.

After netting in the first leg it is likely that Mane will again be selected in Liverpool's star-studded front three. The Senegal international has scored 14 knockout-stage goals for the Reds in the Champions League, leaving him one short of Chelsea legend Frank Lampard's record for the most for an English club.

 


Real Madrid v Manchester City

The omens are good for City as they have progressed from nine of their previous 10 knockout ties in the Champions League after winning the first leg, the only exception being against Monaco at the last-16 stage in 2016-17 after squandering a 5-3 advantage to lose 6-6 on away goals.

Madrid have been eliminated from all five previous Champions League semi-finals in which they have lost the first leg, meanwhile, though they have advanced from two of their past three knockout ties when losing the first leg – against Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 quarter-finals and versus Paris Saint-Germain in this season's last 16.

Los Blancos, the competition's most successful side, have lost their past two Champions League games, though only once before have they lost three on the spin. Head coach Carlo Ancelotti, incidentally, has never lost three in a row with this his 178th match.

A draw would be enough to see City through, but they have won their last three matches against Madrid in the Champions League and could become the third side to win four in a row against them in UEFA's showpiece competition, the only previous sides to have done so being Ajax (between 1973 and 1995) and Bayern Munich (between 2000 and 2002).

City boss Pep Guardiola has had his fair share of battles with Madrid down the years, not least in the Champions League. The Catalan coach has won four matches against Los Blancos in the competition – only Ottmar Hitzfeld (seven) has won more – with half of those wins coming at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Karim Benzema has rescued Madrid a number of times in Europe this season, the Frenchman having netted nine times in the knockout stage alone. Only former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo (10) has ever scored more in a single season, while Benzema could become the fourth player to score in both legs of the quarter-finals and semi-finals in a single season after Fernando Morientes (2003-04), Neymar (2014-15) and Edin Dzeko (2017-18). 

While Benzema has rightly received plenty of plaudits, strike partner Vinicius Junior has himself played a huge part in Madrid's charge for a record-extending 14th European Cup. The 28 open-play chances created by the Brazil international is the most of any player in the Champions League since Dusan Tadic (36) in 2018-19.

Trent Alexander-Arnold knows Liverpool must not be complacent when they start the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Villarreal on Tuesday with a "dangerous" 2-0 lead.

Jurgen Klopp's side are strong favourites to face Manchester City or Real Madrid in the final at the Stade de France after a Pervis Estupinan own goal and Sadio Mane's strike at Anfield last week put them in command

Liverpool are the only side to reach the final after losing the first leg of a semi-final by two goals or more, overturning a 3-0 deficit with a sensational 4-0 victory over Barcelona three years ago.

The Reds are unbeaten in 12 matches and make the trip to El Madrigal on a five-game winning streak - keeping clean sheets in their past four victories.

Alexander-Arnold says they will not arrive in Spain thinking it is already job done as they prepare to face a side that dumped Juventus and Bayern Munich out.

The full-back said: "Anything can happen in football, they're a top-quality side who can beat world-class teams.

"We've seen that with Juve and Bayern. They play up to the underdog so we cannot get complacent. An old cliche, only half-time. Next goal is vital in this tie."

Real Madrid defender David Alaba did not train with the squad on Monday, casting doubt over his participation against Manchester City.

Alaba, who has added a LaLiga title to his 10 Bundesliga crowns after Madrid sealed their domestic triumph on Saturday, trained inside away from the rest of the squad, according to an update on the club's official website.

The versatile defender, signed on a free transfer last season following the expiration of his Bayern Munich contract, has played a key role in Carlo Ancelotti's defence this term and has made 45 appearances across all competitions, all of them starts.

However, Alaba was taken off in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against City last week, which finished 4-3 in the Premier League leaders' favour, with a hamstring issue, and it is unclear if he will return in time to play against Pep Guardiola's team in Wednesday's second leg. He did not play against Espanyol on Saturday.

Madrid are vying for a place in the final, which will take place on May 28 in Paris. Liverpool lead Villarreal 2-0 on aggregate in the other semi-final.

Gareth Bale did also not take part in full training, while Eden Hazard continues his recovery from a fibula fracture.

Thomas Tuchel acknowledged Chelsea are in danger of dropping out of the top four altogether after losing 1-0 to struggling Everton on Sunday.

Frank Lampard's Toffees snatched a potentially vital victory in their bid to avoid relegation from the Premier League for the first time, with Richarlison getting the decisive goal just after half-time.

Chelsea created several presentable chances but were denied by three wonderful Jordan Pickford saves as Everton held out under pressure at Goodison Park.

It was not so long ago that Chelsea appeared certain to finish in the top four, but they have won only once in their past four league matches, putting their position under pressure from Arsenal and Tottenham.

Tuchel insists he never felt completely safe, though.

“Of course, it was always like this," he told reporters when asked if they now face a battle to qualify for the Champions League.

"I said it many weeks ago that I didn't ever feel safe. We are never safe. By the way, if we are in a race for top one, top two, or top four, no matter what the race, the last four games to only have four points will never be enough, no matter which race we are in.

"We have to take care of ourselves. At the moment we don't get the points when we play well and deserve more and we lose when we play okay, this is a bad mixture."

Cesar Azpilicueta's dawdling on the ball ultimately led to Everton's winner, with individual mistakes becoming something of a theme in recent weeks for Chelsea.

Such errors, and how to eradicate them, have Tuchel at a loss.

"What can I do? The ball is free, then give a goal away. It is the worst thing that can happen to you in this atmosphere and situation. It happens too often, we struggle to play without big mistakes. That's why we struggle to have results.

"If there is something I can do I will try it but if I knew about it I would have done it before. I think, for me, the key is to have a clean sheet. Manchester United was a different game, more open, fluid, more spaces, and we finally scored late and conceded straight away.

"For me, this is more like the game against West Ham. The opponent defends deep, we struggle to find space in the first half, but against West Ham we had a clean sheet and played without any big mistakes.

"That gives us the chance to score late. If you run behind against an opponent like this, in this atmosphere and install emotion and belief in a stadium like this and the opponent's team, you struggle."

It was a bruising encounter, with referee Kevin Friend producing eight yellow cards in total.

The aggression displayed by Everton did not trouble Tuchel specifically, though he was critical of how the game was refereed.

"No, no, we expected [Everton to be aggressive]," he added. "It would have been nice to have a referee who was in charge of it – they got away with a lot. He decided to manage the game the way he did and I was not too happy with it, but it's his way.

"That is why it's important to not do any mistakes, instil belief, and to keep doing what we do on the highest level of focus. We struggled."

Jack Grealish has been left out of Manchester City's biggest matches in recent weeks purely due to tactical reasons, Pep Guardiola has explained.

Grealish, signed for a record-breaking £100million last off-season, has started just three of City's eight games so far in April.

The Premier League leaders bookend what has been a hectic month with a trip to Leeds United on Saturday, and may well start the match at Elland Road in second place, should Liverpool get a result against in-form Newcastle United.

Grealish featured from the off in last week's 5-1 rout of Watford, but did not play against Real Madrid in Tuesday's thrilling Champions League encounter as City won the first leg of their semi-final 4-3.

The 26-year-old also started against Burnley at the start of April and in the FA Cup semi-final to Liverpool, scoring City's first goal in a 3-2 defeat at Wembley. However, he was a substitute against the Reds in the 2-2 league draw on April 10, and only featured from the bench in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final tie with Atletico Madrid. He also did not appear against Brighton and Hove Albion.

Only Bruno Fernandes (77) created more chances from open play in the Premier League than Grealish (70) last season, with the England international managing to craft 42 goalscoring chances from open play for City across 22 top-flight appearances this term. 

That is still the third-best figure in City's squad, behind Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva (both 52), and Guardiola has insisted the playmaker's recent omissions were purely tactical and not down to a disappointment in Grealish's level of performance.

"He can play," Guardiola replied when asked in a news conference why Grealish had been left out of the biggest matches.

"Nothing changes. In that position, in important games Riyad [Mahrez] gives something unique, special and Phil [Foden] is so determined, his will and his impact on the game is huge as well. Just for that reason.

"Raheem [Sterling], everybody knows how important he is for me. Always have the feeling with Phil and Riyad that the goal is there, they have the sense to score the goal. 

"Sometimes you need more control, maybe Jack. Most of the time it is a tactical decision, not because I'm unsatisfied or that they're not playing good."

While Grealish could be in line to play against Leeds, Kyle Walker remains sidelined through injury, with Guardiola unsure if the full-back will return before the end of the season. John Stones will also be absent in West Yorkshire.

City did not beat Leeds in either match last season, drawing at Elland Road before losing to 10 men at the Etihad Stadium. Indeed, the Whites have lost just two of their last nine home league games against City (W6 D1), doing so in consecutive meetings in December 1995 (0-1) and September 2000 (1-2).

But City did win the reverse fixture 7-0 this season and are looking to complete their first league double over Leeds since 1981-82. Guardiola, though, knows Jesse Marsch's team, who are five points clear of the relegation zone after a five-game unbeaten run that has included three victories, stand in the way of what could be a crucial win.

"Last season we dropped five points against Marcelo [Bielsa]," he said. "Jesse Marsch did an incredible job in Salzburg, [RB] Leipzig wasn't the perfect place maybe, but many teams in England play that way, I have a lot of respect.

"This is the most important game that we have for the position we will be in between the Champions League games, after Madrid we have just four games all in the league. We accept the challenge, know exactly what we have to do and we will try to do it."

As Jurgen Klopp sat in front of a tremendously busy media room when he was being presented as Liverpool's new manager in October 2015, he said his mission was to "turn doubters into believers."

He felt Reds fans were a little too used to coming so near yet so far, having not won a league title since 1990 at the time, and only winning one trophy - the 2012 League Cup - since 2006.

Early on in his reign, after his new team had fallen 2-1 behind to Crystal Palace at Anfield, he was aghast at fans leaving the ground with almost 10 minutes to go, saying he felt "pretty alone" in that moment.

Fast-forward to April 2022, and having won the Champions League, the Premier League, a UEFA Super Cup, a FIFA Club World Cup and an EFL Cup since, it is safe to say that the Liverpool fans are now believers as they sang Klopp's name at the top of their lungs during the 2-0 Champions League semi-final first leg victory against Villarreal.

The Reds are still in with a shout of winning an unprecedented quadruple this season having already won the EFL Cup, with an FA Cup final against Chelsea to come, a lead in their Champions League semi, and sitting just a point behind leaders Manchester City in the Premier League title race with five games left.

News that Klopp had signed a two-year extension to his Anfield deal on Thursday, meaning his contract now runs until 2026, came as a huge boost to fans ahead of what promises to be an exciting run-in, and Stats Perform has taken a look at some of the important steps that took those doubters and filled them with such belief.

Darkest before the dawn

There was a lot to clear up in the squad left behind by the outgoing Brendan Rodgers. If you look at the team Klopp chose for his first game in charge against Tottenham at White Hart Lane, you will see names on the bench such as Jerome Sinclair, Joao Teixeira and Conor Randall, names not too familiar to many now.

"There were many full-throttle moments in the game. We need to improve but after working with the players for three days I am completely satisfied," Klopp said after the 0-0 draw, but he knew he had his work cut out.

Although ultimately it was a disappointing league campaign in 2015-16 for Liverpool, finishing eighth with just 60 points, behind both Southampton and West Ham, Klopp did manage to reach two finals, in the EFL Cup and the Europa League.

He ended up losing both of them, on penalties to Man City and 3-1 to Sevilla respectively. The players were despondent, but as detailed earlier this week by Reds captain Jordan Henderson, Klopp insisted his players not mope, but celebrate what they had achieved, and what he was sure was still to come.

First step in the evolution

After adding Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum prior to his first full season in charge, many people were a bit underwhelmed, but those fears were soon allayed as Liverpool set about playing the sort of football they have since become synonymous with.

A 4-3 win at Arsenal on the opening day of the season set the tempo, albeit that was tempered by a 2-0 defeat at Burnley straight after in which Liverpool could do nothing with their 80 per cent possession at Turf Moor.

However, as the season progressed, Klopp was able to get a tune out of a potent front three of Mane, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, with Mane and Coutinho scoring 13 Premier League goals each, while Firmino added 11 more.

A 3-0 win against Middlesbrough at Anfield on the final day of the season sealed a Champions League spot, but the question was, could Liverpool stay competitive in the league while also navigating through a European campaign?

 

No player is bigger than the club

Liverpool had made an addition to their already potent attack by bringing in Mohamed Salah from Roma, but the 2017-18 season looked to be thrown into turmoil before it had begun, with Coutinho handing in a transfer request the day before the opener at Watford.

The Brazilian was forced to stay until the January transfer window before being allowed to move to Barcelona, but it did not exactly slow Klopp's men down, largely thanks to the revelation that was Salah.

The Egyptian plundered 4e goals in all competitions in his debut season with the Reds, and coupled with the addition of Virgil van Dijk in January, led to Liverpool making it all the way to the Champions League final in Kyiv.

They were ultimately beaten by Real Madrid thanks to some odd goalkeeping from Loris Karius and a stunner from Gareth Bale, but it felt like the start of something, rather than the end.

 

Righting wrongs

After adding Alisson and Fabinho to an already strong team, it seemed that Klopp had addressed his two biggest weak points, and so it proved as Liverpool became a near unstoppable force.

They went toe-to-toe with a rampant Man City in the title race, while also showing a determination to avenge their Champions League heartbreak.

They did just that after a remarkable 4-3 aggregate win against Coutinho and Barcelona in the semi-finals, before beating Tottenham 2-0 in Madrid to give Klopp his first trophy at the club, arguably the biggest one of all.

However, in some people's eyes, the biggest one was the Premier League, which they missed out on to City by a single point, despite amassing an incredible 97 themselves. Only City that year and when they achieved 100 the year prior had ever won more points in England's top flight, but it still didn't result in a league title.

Righting wrongs: Part two

Just as they had done in the Champions League, Liverpool had a sense of purpose to go one better in the league in 2019-20, and that led to the title race being over pretty much before it had begun.

A 3-1 win against City at Anfield in the November put the Reds nine points clear of Pep Guardiola's men, and they never looked back, until they were forced to stop their relentless pursuit.

After a break of several weeks following the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Liverpool returned to finish the job and seal their first league title in 30 years after going two points better than the year previous, ending the campaign with 99 to their name.

 

The beginning of the end?

The pandemic meant every club had lost their fans, with no-one allowed in grounds. While the increasingly believing Kop was missed, it was not until Klopp started losing his defence that problems emerged in 2020-21.

By mid-November, he had lost Van Dijk and Joe Gomez to long-term injury, and Joel Matip completed the set in January, meaning Liverpool had to play a significant chunk of their campaign with either midfielders, or rookie defenders at centre back.

This led to a downturn in results that had people questioning if the ride was over. Had Klopp's relentless Reds finally run out of steam, and was this the inevitable consequence of shining so brightly?

Thanks to some very hard-earned wins, including a remarkable stoppage time winner from Alisson at West Brom, Liverpool scraped third place and a crucial Champions League spot. Had stories of their demise been greatly exaggerated?

 

The quadruple chasers

Yes, yes they had. With their defenders all back, and Ibrahima Konate added from RB Leipzig, Liverpool have, if anything, found new levels of excellence this season. They have gone right back to challenging City, and have proven themselves to be one of the teams to beat in Europe too.

They are currently the top scorers in the Premier League with 85 goals in 33 games, and have won 13 of their last 14 league games, with a 2-2 draw at City their only blemish in that time.

Can they go all the way and make history by winning a quadruple? It still seems unlikely, but whether they do or they don't, the news that Klopp's story with Liverpool has been extended by two more years can only be positive.

You better believe it.

Virgil van Dijk admitted he would not want to face Liverpool's lethal strikers after Villarreal failed to contain the ruthless Reds.

Sadio Mane became the third Liverpool player to score 20 goals this season as Jurgen Klopp's side won the Champions League semi-final first leg at Anfield 2-0 on Wednesday.

Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota have also reached that amount in the 2021-22 campaign, while Luis Diaz has been a revelation since his arrival from Porto in January.

Divock Origi has also played his part this season, once again coming off the bench to score against Everton in a 2-0 Merseyside derby win last Sunday that keeps the pressure on leaders Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

Van Dijk is relieved he is able to watch the Reds' rampant forward line create havoc rather than having to try and keep them at bay.

The centre-back told the club's official website: "They are so important for us at the moment. I don't want to be facing any of our strikers, to be fair.

"Diogo from the bench, Luis, Mo, Sadio, it's incredible, Divock the last game. We are in a good moment, everyone is pushing each other and we'll try to keep that going, and the amount of work they put in is incredible as well."

Liverpool will travel to Estadio de la Ceramica for the second leg next Tuesday with one foot in the final as they attempt to win an unprecedented quadruple.

Van Dijk says there is no chance the Reds will sit back on their advantage.

"We are not going there to defend and defend the lead,” said the Netherlands international.

"We know we have to be very mature there as well, we know it’s going to be tough, probably a little hostile atmosphere, but it’s something we should enjoy as well.

"You don't get to the final the easy way, it's never the case, especially at this stage of the Champions League. You play against fantastic teams. So, it will be tough there but we have to be confident, work hard for the full 95 minutes and hopefully we can get the job done."

Jurgen Klopp insisted Liverpool still have it all to do in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Villarreal, despite the first leg ending in a convincing 2-0 win.

The Reds carved out their advantage during a two-minute second-half spell that saw Pervis Estupinan put through his own net and Sadio Mane get on the scoresheet.

The visitors managed just a single shot across the 90 minutes, one which failed even to test Alisson in the Reds' goal.

However, Klopp is taking nothing for granted ahead of the return leg in Spain next week, saying at a media conference after the game: "The full work is [left] to do. Nothing happened yet. 

"You play a game and it's 2-0 at half-time, you have to be completely on alert, you have to be 100 per cent in the right mood, you have the play the second half like you played the first. 

"There's nothing to defend, if you do that you give all the advantages you might have had away immediately. 

"We know we go there and it will be a tricky atmosphere for us, different to tonight. 

"Those players, you saw it tonight, they fight for the coach with all they have. What I like was that everybody could see that we fight with all we have and it's always the same. 

"If they beat us with a result that brings them to the final then they deserve it and, if not, then we deserve it. That's how the competition is."

Liverpool had taken 12 shots without scoring in an opening period that saw Villarreal frustrate - a theme of their march to this stage of the competition. 

But Klopp did not ask his team to change things up during the half-time break, instead asking for more of the same from his players.

He added: "We spoke at half-time, I thought we looked really fresh in the first half and had good legs. 

"It's intense for us to play the way we play but it's intense for the opponent to defend us in that way as well.

"It was the challenge, how it is for all human beings, when you try and you fail and try and fail [not to] think, 'Come on, it's not my day!' 

"We really had to stay positive and try and fail, try and fail, and keep trying. And that's what we did."

Liverpool left back Andrew Robertson said he and his team-mates are "enjoying" their hectic schedule as they earned a 2-0 first leg lead in their Champions League semi-final against Villarreal.

An own goal and a Sadio Mane strike, both early in the second half, was enough for Jurgen Klopp's men to secure a decent cushion ahead of next Tuesday's second leg in Spain.

Villarreal frustrated Liverpool at Anfield in the first half, but were unable to stop them from winning their ninth Champions League match of the season, the most games the Reds have ever won in a single campaign in European competition (excluding qualifiers).

Speaking to BT Sport after the win, captain Jordan Henderson praised the visitors, and said staying "positive" was key for Liverpool.

"Yeah, very organised team," Henderson said about Unai Emery's side. "We knew they'd make it difficult, but it was important that we just kept going, stay positive and we had the confidence that if we did that, kept moving the ball quickly, we'd eventually break them down, and we did that with two good goals."

It was Henderson's cross that deflected in off Pervis Estupinan to finally break the deadlock, and when told it had deflected, the England international jokingly replied: "Did it? I thought it went straight in!

"Yeah a little bit lucky, but it was good play, good build up... But, you need a little bit of luck against teams with a low block. We got that with the first and thankfully we got another one."

Liverpool had 19 shots to Villarreal's one on a dominant night for the Reds. The Yellow Submarine's one shot, which missed the target, is the joint-fewest by any side in a Champions League semi-final according to Opta since this data has been available (2003-04), along with Inter v Barcelona in 2009-10.

Robertson was also asked by BT Sport about the game, and he was keen to point out that the players are enjoying themselves, with an unprecedented quadruple of the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and EFL Cup still possible.

"We had quite a few chances in the first half, just trying to break them down and keep doing what we were doing," the Scotland captain said. "The first goal always kind of does that [gives you a boost], we then had a bit of momentum. The noise in here was incredible after the first goal and that kind of took us to the second one.

"We'd have liked to add maybe one more, it wasn't meant to be but a clean sheet and two goals? We can't argue with that.

"You have to [work hard], it's the semi-final of the Champions League. If you can't run about for 90 minutes in this kind of game then when will you?

"Our intensity's been really high the last couple of games, we've had a real hectic schedule and we're enjoying it. I think you seen that today.

"There's still a lot of work to do in this tie, but we're happy with our work tonight."

Also asked about not getting frustrated by a stubborn Villarreal defence, Robertson added: "That was the message from Hendo at half-time, just saying we were playing well first half, probably some of the best we've played and we didn't get a goal for it, but we kept going, kept trying to be patient and luckily with a big deflection (smiling at Henderson), we managed to get the breakthrough."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.