Bayern Munich may be the only German side left in the Champions League but that isn't where German interest ends. The country's exports are all over the last eight, but nowhere more so than Liverpool vs. Manchester City.
Footballers are used to friends becoming enemies as they switch between international and club matches. But Wednesday's Champions League quarterfinal first leg is a quick turnaround, even by their standards.
Manchester City's Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gündogan and Liverpool's Emre Can were all named in Germany's squad for their international friendlies last week but will be in different colored shirts at Anfield. Can's club coach Jürgen Klopp makes it two Germans apiece and Gündogan explained that he and his former Borussia Dortmund boss have had the date circled in their diaries for some time.
“We did chat a bit at the time [of the Champions League draw],” the midfielder said in an interview with City's official website. “I only said: ‘See you soon’ and sent him a little smiley emoji, to which he answered with a smiley as well. We were both happy with this match-up, although maybe we’d both have liked to face foreign opposition. That would’ve given us the chance of having two English teams in the semifinals.”
Clash of coaching giants
The sides have already met twice in the Premier League this season, winning one game each. Liverpool's 4-3 win in January remains City's only league loss while Klopp has the edge over former Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola in the overall head-to-head between the two.
The German boss believes that attack is the only option against a City side who broke the Premier League record for possession at the weekend with 82 per cent of the ball against Everton.
"We have a lot of things Man City don't like. That's the reality," he told UEFA.com. "The way we attack the opponent, the way we defend high is unpleasant. If we do that well they will have some difficulty coping with it."
City's strength also lies in offensive areas. "We’re aware of our strengths and know what we’re capable of," said Gündogan, who has spoken of his desire to avenge the league defeat. "We want to prove that in both games, of course."
Should Gündogan appear on Wednesday, he'll rack up 40 appearances for the season, the most he's featured in a campaign since 2012/13 after a series of major injuries. The playmaker has been quietly effective for City but drew some criticism for his display in Germany's friendly loss to Brazil.
Both sides have competition for midfield places and while Gündogan only has to worry about his teammates, Can is facing a race against time to be fit. If he makes it, the former Bayer Leverkusen midfielder will hope to reprise his starring role in the 4-3. The 24-year-old is still stalling on a new contract with Juventus said to be interested on signing him on a free should Liverpool fail to reach a deal - but he hasn't quite convinced the Anfield faithful that he's a long-term answer in midfield, particularly with RB Leipzig's Naby Keita on the way.
Sane shining in Premier League
In contrast, Sane has enjoyed a breakout Premier League campaign as City have aside all before them. With nine goals and 11 assists in 26 league games, the 22-year-old is widely considered to be competing with English teammate Raheem Sterling for the Premier League's Young Player of the Year award. The former Schalke winger was in scintillating form against Everton at the weekend and says he won't be fazed by the magnitude of the occasion.
“For me, it makes it a lot of fun to play when the atmosphere is really loud," he said. "Even if it is coming from the other team, it pushes you a bit more. Everyone is really excited about the game. For the best atmospheres, I remember the derby between Schalke and Dortmund, and playing at Celtic last season, which was amazing.”
With Anfield's reputation for cranking the volume up a notch on big European nights, Sane may have another atmosphere to remember. But which two of England's Germans will secure a first leg advantage?