John Arne Riise’s eyes light up at the mere thought.
Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne, Roberto Firmino, Sergio Aguero.
It’s been on his mind since the draw was made over in Nyon a fortnight ago. What a prospect, what a treat, what a tie.
“It is going to be amazing,” he smiles. “I am going to make sure I am there!”
The former Liverpool defender can speak from experience when it comes to all-English European knockout ties, of course. Riise played in no fewer than four of them during his time at Anfield – and you can add two group stage games with Chelsea to that, too. Yep, he knows what it’s like to face a domestic rival on the European stage.
He knows what it’s like to beat them, as Liverpool did to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea (twice) in Champions League semi-finals and to Arsenal once in a quarter-final. He also knows how it feels to come unstuck, as the Reds did against Avram Grant’s Chelsea in 2008. Riise’s own goal in the first leg of that tie proved to be a killer blow to Rafa Benitez’s side.
“There is more to lose to these teams because they are from the same league,” he says. “That can make it a little more tense going into the game.
“Everyone enjoys travelling away, seeing new stadiums and meeting new players from different countries, that is always exciting about the Champions League. But at the same time we know all the players, the stadiums and there is not far to travel, so that can be helpful.
“But for me the pressure is more on City; they are playing amazing football and are expected to go all the way. They are playing football like I’ve never seen, but if you want to win the Champions League you have to beat the best teams any way. Obviously we could have got an easier draw but it may be helpful.
“Liverpool players know what Anfield can do on Champions League nights, the City players know what Anfield can do.”
They certainly do. Pep Guardiola’s side have rightly earned plaudits across the football world for their performances this season. They will be deserving Premier League champions, whether that is confirmed this weekend or next.
But Liverpool showed in January that they can compete with City – their 4-3 win is the only defat suffered by Guardiola’s side in the league so far this term – and with Guardiola unlikely to deviate from his open, attacking game-plan, the expectation is that we are in for a refreshingly open tie. Jurgen Klopp, indeed, stated that this is the tie he would choose to watch as a neutral.
Unsurprisingly Riise, always one for the front foot as a player, agrees.
“It is going to be two games of offensive football with a lot of chances and a lot of goals hopefully,” he smiles.
“Probably it is the quarter-final everyone wants to watch because of the styles both teams are playing. What Guardiola has done is just magnificent: he is an amazing coach.
“Yes he's had money but you still need to get the players to do the job and he's done that in great fashion. But Jurgen is doing the same too.
“It will be two games of high intensity and I can't wait for it. It is going to be amazing.
“City are probably favourites, but I am thinking the Champions League is something special for Liverpool and it's a big chance for them to go all the way. Hopefully Salah, Firmino and Mane up front can do some damage!”
Riise, of course, knows what it takes to go all the way in this competition, having been part of the Benitez side which upset all the odds to win the 2005 Champions League.
Victory in Istanbul remains one of the club’s most iconic moments, and cemented the legacy of Benitez as an Anfield great. How Klopp, still searching for his first trophy as Reds boss, would love something similar this season.
“When you come to a club like Liverpool you are expected to win trophies and Mr Klopp knows that,” Riise says. “But at the same time he needs to play the kind of football fans want to see.
“If the fans turn against you then you are in trouble but the fans love Mr Klopp. Then again he needs to win trophies to show they are progressing, which they have done this season.
“The style of play now is amazing and they are doing well in the Champions League. Hopefully next season they can get a better start in the Premier League so they can fight from the beginning.
“If the fans love the way you play then you are looking good. Certain teams would rather win games than play good football, but Liverpool want to do both: play good football but at the same time win.
“I think the way Jurgen is playing his football wins the fans over. He has a lot of fans around the world and he will win trophies, I am sure of that.
“And as soon as you start winning trophies there is no looking back. If he does that, he is just going to keep going and going.”
Europe expects. On Wednesday, we will see if the hype was justified. Riise, like the rest of the world, will be watching and waiting. It could be something special.