Manchester City 3-1 Liverpool | The top two from the previous campaign met for the first time this season. The two fixtures between them in 2013/14 were at crucial moments of the season. This result doesn’t mean much at the moment, but could be a potential 6 point winner for City come the end of the season. According to Betfair odds, Liverpool are tipped to continue their solid away form from last season, and despite the loss, the performance was positive for parts. But Manchester City at home, is almost always an assured loss for most opponents.
Manchester City: Hart, Kompany, Demichelis, Zabaleta, Clichy, Fernando, Toure, Nasri, Silva (Navas 65′), Jovetic (Fernandinho 80′), Aguero (Dzeko 68′)
Liverpool: Mignolet, Skrtel, Lovren, Johnson, Moreno, Gerrard, Henderson, Allen (Can 75′), Sterling (Lambert 79′), Coutinho (Markovic 60′), Sturridge
Goals: Jovetic 41′, Jovetic 55′, Aguero 69′ // Zabaleta OG 83′
Right set-up in midfield by Liverpool, but not functional allowing City to control
To contain Manchester City, having a clear set-up in mind for their powerful & creative centre is a priority for the opposition. Yaya Toure & Fernando provide proper cover & balance, allowing the more attack minded advanced players ahead of them to combine fluidly. Liverpool’s approach to the game was thus spot on, the functioning of it, not quite.
As seen in the illustration above, Brendan Rodgers went with Steven Gerrard as the deepest midfielder, while Joe Allen & Jordan Henderson provided the legs on either side. Though neither Allen nor Henderson are the most technically gifted, they make up for it in work rate (latter more so than the former), able to cover in defence and aid in attack. So this meant Henderson & Allen would cover the central areas defensively, while Sterling & Coutinho would do a similar job in the wide positions
It was undoubtedly the right idea on paper and Liverpool for large parts did a decent enough job in controlling the City side. While their own attack wasn’t very threatening, they more than adeptly ensured neither was that of the champions. But as the game wore on, the problem became obvious and less containable.
Ideally a proper creative and defensive player would be required as the deepest point in the midfield, but captain Gerrard has only one of those abilities. On the ball, the retired England captain is still excellent; his long balls particularly, from deep in midfield a familiar sight in last season’s title challenging side. But off-the-ball, Gerrard is virtually non existent; his positional sense and defensive movement are worryingly weak, while his general defensive intelligence is always questionable.
With two men upfront in Jovetic & Dzeko, Manchester City have kept the Liverpool defensive line deep, Henderson & Allen expectedly would be out of position on occasion, given their role involves advancing forward in both defensive & attacking capacities. Compiled with both those factors, there’s a huge gap between the lines that needs to be filled, Steven Gerrard is supposed to be in there for cover, but often isn’t. It meant that City’s creative midfielders, and the deeper duo were able to easily combine with passes & movement as Liverpool’s captain was often caught out of position, as shown above.
City’s midfield duo of Fernando & Toure had a combined pass completion rate of 95% between them with over 150 passes attempted. By no means did either of them have a spectacular game (contrary to what was expected from Toure prior to kick-off), but they both were crucial in retaining possession with the side and providing that defensive cover. A lot of these passes were lateral and backward ones, but it meant that the away side saw less of the ball.
As seen with the image above, Man City’s maximum influence across the pitch was just into Liverpool’s half at 14.78%. While Henderson too didn’t have a good game, Gerrard was far from an ideal choice to cover this particular zone. Rodgers’ side can possibly get away with Gerrard in that deep role against smaller teams who have lesser attacking impact, but away to City, it’s easily punishable as explained below.
Errors from that midfield pounced on by City
Liverpool’s midfield, like Gerrard, lacked the positional sense defensively, as the captain himself couldn’t contain City’s midfield, nor mark his man in crucial moments.
Manchester City’s first goal was blamed on a combination of poor defending & slow reactions from Dejan Lovren & Alberto Moreno respectively, but in the lead up to that, Gerrard again would have to take blame (though the image below doesn’t fully capture it).
Credit for the ball played in and credit to David Silva for the clever run, but again the Spaniard was able to slip past Steven Gerrard far too easily. Yes a clumsy combination of Lovren & Moreno did allow Jovetic to score (which he should receive as much credit for as the Liverpool defenders should receive blame), but Gerrard too was the guilty party here. David Silva should not be allowed to make such an easy run into the sky blue box area in the image above. Either Lovren, or Gerrard should be covering up for Moreno’s movement (who also didn’t need to get quite that wide while others were covering).
Stevan Jovetic deserves complete credit for both creating the second goal for himself, and completing it. That smart flick opened up the defence, and an even smarter run went untraced. While Lovren does bear the brunt again for his positioning leading up to the goal, Liverpool’s deeper midfielders of Gerrard & Henderson were absent defensively.
As seen in the first part of the image, Lovren’s poor positioning is evident but notice Gerrard & Henderson’s positions as well. Atleast one of them should be covering the central area, should a chance open up for City. Both Gerrard & Henderson fail to get back to that area, allowing Jovetic for his second. But again, as much as the Liverpool players deserve criticism, the Montenegrin deserves credit, creating the chance for himself and making that free run completely unnoticed.
Efficient Manchester City in defence & attack
All three of Manchester City’s goals seem to have risen from individual errors (except the second which was more of class from Jovetic than poor defensive showing from Liverpool), but it’s easy to ignore how efficient Manuel Pellegrini’s side were both in defence & attack.
The vital thing for the champions was the numbers they had in both phases of play, with all the players assuming a ‘universality’ of roles, contributing equally to defence & towards the attack. It’s easy to say Man City have the better side than Liverpool, but if it were to be pinpointed to one factor, this would be it and Manuel Pellegrini deserves full credit for getting it to function. He has his side set-out to play well-defined roles, ensuring that there are enough numbers when an attack develops, but enough members back defending allowing the opposition to have nothing more than meaningless possession as Liverpool did for large parts.
The images above are a brief example of these numbers that City had. Clichy crosses as seven men are in and around the box, while eight men are back defending as well having the game well in control. Important to note the performances of both the full-backs that allow this to function smoothly, no player in the side has more of a ‘universality’ of roles than Clichy & Zabaleta. The latter especially is almost never caught out of position.
To further give an example of City’s efficiency in getting all eleven players playing important roles in defence & attack, a look at Jovetic’s impact across the pitch tells the story.
He alternated in attack playing beside & behind Dzeko, but 15.79% of his game was played on the left side of his own half in a defensive phase. No he didn’t make any last ditch tackles or thwart attacks, but Pellegrini has clearly set out his side to contribute in both phases of play.
And nothing shows Manchester City’s efficiency much better than their third goal; while their first goal involved a 20 something passing sequence, the last one was just simple direct stuff. Yes Lovren makes a mistake again but it’s hard to attach any blame on him, the pass from Navas was complete perfection. Hart, to Kompany, to Navas, run from Aguero, goal.
This again is where a side like Manchester City can prove to be well ahead of Liverpool. Clinical efficiency in crucial tight games like this often decides results, more so than moments of brilliance. The latter would be just looking at it on the face of it, the former is how it often actually transpires.
Where does this leave them?
It would be wrong to draw any conclusions based on this result, but there certainly are some takeaways. The away side weren’t as poor as the Manchester City 3-1 Liverpool scoreline suggests, but rather the hosts were just better on the night. There are some key issues that Liverpool need to address, the side is better than last season but the midfield is a concern. It’s astonishing that nine players have been signed but no defensive midfielder (Can is the closest to it but his positional sense too prevents him from being a regular option for that role). City though, have again showed how difficult the Etihad can prove to be and again under Pellegrini have shown their title credentials. If Jovetic can keep himself fit, the depth & options in their attack is quite unbelievable.
Written by Sami Faizullah. Chief Editor at Outside of the Boot.