The omens of the red flares and ransacked away bus didn't look good for Manchester City before their last eight clashes against Liverpool – but bookies didn't expect them to ship three goals without reply and set up a very tough assignment at the Etihad in the second leg of the quarterfinals on April 10.
Liverpool's win was no fluke and for two seasons Jürgen Klopp's team have demonstrated the ability to take any side apart with the German's high-energy philosophy. At times this season, Liverpool have been a paradox for football bettors – capable of humiliating world-class sides, but also collapsing and throwing away games that are 'already won'.
However, the first-leg omens weren't just based on an Anfield atmosphere akin to Galatasaray. Stats followers were already aware that the Reds' defensive displays have been improving drastically in the past few months – figures that top football betting sites point to wagering on Liverpool keeping things tight and progressing virtue of a low scoring contents on the ptich.
Following arguably the performance of the season so far, Liverpool are priced at 1/9 in Champions League betting to reach the semi-final stage. Assuming they don't capitulate, the only question is how they're likely to approach the game it terms of a tactical perspective regarding the match.
The first leg demonstrated Liverpool's lethal attacking prowess and high-energy pressing football – something every football bettor has known for a long time. Klopp's side has scored 75 Premier League goals, second only to Manchester City's 88.
However, it was Liverpool's overall performance and defensive capacity that really impressed on the big stage. In keeping a clean sheet, Liverpool became only the fourth team this season to stop Man City from scoring. More impressively, they're the only side to have prevented City from having a shot on target – stats that suggest Klopp has finally created a side with a strong defensive unit.
Liverpool are expected to head to the Etihad to protect their advantage by making it very hard for City to penetrate their defence – something that points to betting on under 2.5 goals in the game at odds of 13/8.
The reason for Liverpool's apparent turnaround from a side who sometimes ship goals for fun (letting 3-0 advantages slip against Seville and Crystal Palace, for example), points to the development of a defensive line that was not there earlier in the season – inclusive of personnel.
Most notably is the £75m signing of Virgil van Dijk, who is now looking like a man worth every penny; his presence has galvanized the confidence of Dejan Lovren, while Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson continue to come of age on their flanks.
Van Dijk has brought order out of chaos, marshaling the side to five clean sheets (with only four goals conceded) in his last eight starts. While Liverpool have conceded 35 League goals (more than any other side in the top five), their Champions League statistics demonstrate the emergence of their solidarity.
Liverpool's clean sheet against City was their fourth in a row in the Champions League, taking their tally to six – a figure matched only by Barcelona. If Liverpool's resilience is confirmed to be authentic, then this is the perfect game in which to prove it – expect Klopp's side to mimic their solid second-half performance from the first-leg and play into the hands of under 2.5 backers at 6/4 with Betfair.
While it's a paradox, backers of under 2.5 goals can hedge their bets by taking a punt on City putting in a performance that would rival Barcelona's 6-1 comeback victory to knockout PSG in the 2017 Champions League. Man City (5/1 to qualify) can be backed at 11/1 to win 3-0 in normal time and take the game into extra-time, which is the most logical bet to make if fancying City to pull the game out of the fire.
Should the side go three up, backers would be able to cash-out for a good profit. Interestingly, both sides have to play fierce local derbies ahead of the second leg –Liverpool plays Everton at Goodison Park, while City hosts Manchester United. Liverpool have question marks over Mo Salah's groin niggle, while Jordan Henderson will miss the tie through suspension.
The games between Manchester City and Liverpool have been thrilling this season, with City winning 5-0 at the Etihad in September, followed by 4-3 and 3-0 defeats at Anfield, in the Premiership and Champions League, respectively.
However, while an attacking masterclass from City can't be discounted, Liverpool's maturing defensive strength points to the side keeping things very tight. Log on to Betfair Sportsbook, where backing Under 2.5 goals at 13/8 makes an appealing wager.