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Man City can follow Liverpool blueprint to bounce back next season

Has Jurgen Klopp got the blueprint for Manchester City’s recovery from their agonising Champions League final defeat?

In football, plenty is made of one team being a number of years ahead of a rival. Chelsea proved themselves to be on a par with the Premier League champions in the last three meetings, but they will point to City as being a good few years ahead of them in terms of having the same group working with the same manager perfecting the same tactics.

That time doesn’t guarantee trophies, but it helps, and City will point to their Champions League final reverse as the start of a new journey, not the end.

With two more years from Pep Guardiola, at least, City have all the tools to challenge again on the biggest stage. And when they return, they’ll be stronger for their under-par performance against Chelsea.

Just look at Liverpool.

While City were dominating England, Liverpool have had more success on the continent under Jurgen Klopp. European finals are part of Liverpool’s identity, so when they got to the 2018 final in Kiev against Real Madrid, it was almost like a homecoming.

You can draw parallels to the build up to City’s final in Porto. Thousands of fans made a weekend of it, to watch a team they had grown so close to on their biggest challenge yet. And then the football started.

No City player dropped the ball like Loris Karius did twice against Real, but the Blues were masters of their own downfall against Chelsea. From Guardiola’s team selection, to too many off-nights, and not enough luck when it mattered, City let the pressure get to them and Chelsea were deserved winners.

Yet a year after Liverpool’s heartbreak in Ukraine, they were descending on Madrid having reached a second successive final. This time there were no mistakes, nobody wilted under the expectation, and the European Cup was Liverpool’s again.

City must look at how Klopp and Liverpool bounced back from one final heartbreak if they want to ensure Porto was just the next step of the journey.

First of all, Liverpool were ruthless at identifying why they lost the final. Karius didn’t mean his clangers, but he had to go. In his place, influential goalkeeper Alisson was signed, and he’s transformed them since just as Ederson did with City.

There is no need for any fall guys at City, but they will look to an unbalanced back line that Chelsea regularly exploited, and the empty six-yard box that saw cross after cross sent in and cleared before a winger could arrive at the back post.

Omar Berrada, City’s COO, says planning is already underway for a new striker to replace the outgoing Sergio Aguero. To win two trophies and reach a Champions League final without a recognised striker is remarkable this season, but City might be left wondering what might have been with a fully-fit Aguero or someone in his mould this season.

If a new striker and a new out-and-out left-back arrive, City will be stronger for it, and have options within the squad to change if needed the next time they’re in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Then there is Guardiola’s bold selection call to move Ilkay Gundogan – City’s top scorer this season – into defensive midfield. It was only the second time all season that one of Fernandinho or Rodri hadn’t started, and that showed. Guardiola’s gamble to overload the Chelsea defence backfired, and City’s defence was left exposed.

Liverpool only had three changes from their 2018 and 2019 finals – Allison for Karius in goal, Joel Matip for Dejan Lovren in defence, and Fabinho for James Milner in midfield. But just having a recognised defensive midfielder made such a difference when they were victorious, and it was a starting line-up that had played together all season. No final tinkers from Klopp, just trust in the players who got there.

A stronger bench in Madrid than in Kiev also helped Liverpool, as did the early slice of luck with their second-minute penalty.

City will need luck on their side if they are to beat a strong field next season to reach another final. And if they get there, they can also make their own fortune – no wild last-minute tactical changes from the boss, and a strong, ruthless summer to make sure there are no more weaknesses in their starting XI.