News From Manchester: Pep Guardiola can play an inadvertent role in ending Liverpool’s Champions League dream

If it wasn't for a spectacular Real Madrid comeback three weeks ago then City would be preparing to play in the showpiece fixture for the second consecutive season. But football is a cruel mistress, and this year it just wasn't to be.

However, just because the Blues won't be lining up in Paris doesn't mean that Pep Guardiola's sphere of influence won't reach the Stade de France on Saturday night. If Liverpool end up losing to Real Madrid, then Guardiola could be credited with playing a key role.

Having been rushed back from injury, David Alaba lasted only 45 minutes of the Champions League semi-final first leg at the Etihad Stadium. City won 4-3 that night, but could have easily put the tie to bed in the first half.

For a good 25 minutes Los Blancos could not cope with City relentless pressing, buckling under the pressure and struggling to build their own attacks through calm play at the back. That was unusual given Alaba's presence, an elite ball-playing defender, but it was clear that he was nowhere near full fitness.

He will likely start in central defence for Carlos Ancelotti's side against Liverpool, arguably the only team in Europe better at pressing than City. If Real Madrid are to win the European Cup for the 14th time, then they will need Alaba to be at his best to survive Liverpool's press and build their own attacks.

Alaba's strength in that department can be attributed to Guardiola himself, who coached him for three seasons at Bayern Munich between 2013 and 2016. It was under Pep at the Allianz Arena that Alaba first experienced playing in the centre of defence rather than at left-back, but a new position was not the only thing that the Austrian international learned from his coach.

“I experienced football differently under him [Pep], he showed me a side of football I hadnt really seen before,” Alaba told The Athletic. “Football as a game of space, as a game of networks and processes. Playing with the ball, without the ball.

“Little things that make a big difference: the way you dribble, the way to pass, positional play, closing down spaces. When the balls up front and to the right, wheres the best position for you at the back on the left? These types of things. I saw so many new things during those years with him, even though Id seen a few things before already.”

At the time, Guardiola was in no doubt about how important a role his defender played in starting attacks, despite playing at the other end of the pitch.

“He can play anywhere. Hes quick, is good in the build-up and is always 100 per cent focused. Without doubt, he can be one of the best centre-backs in the world,” Guardiola said.

As he so often is, Guardiola was right. Alaba is undoubtedly now one of the best central defenders in world football, and if Real Madrid are to weather Liverpool's blistering attack and relentless press, then he will have to play a huge role.

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