The past weekend saw one of the games that generated considerable interest in the build-up as Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City took on a rejuvenated Liverpool under Jürgen Klopp. Manchester City started the weekend as league leaders, despite being held to a draw against Aston Villa, while Liverpool were looking to bounce back from a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): 1. HART; 3. SAGNA, 26. DEMICHELIS, 20. MANGALA, 11. KOLAROV, 42. TOURE (18. DELPH 45′), 6. FERNANDO, 15. NAVAS (25. FERNANDINHO 45′), 7. STERLING, 17. DE BRUYNE, 10. AGUERO (72. IHEANACHO 66′).
Liverpool (4-3-3): 22. MIGNOLET; 2. CLYNE, 37. SKRTEL, 6. LOVREN, 18. MORENO, 21. LUCAS, 23. CAN, 7. MILNER, 10. COUTINHO (33. IBE 66′), 20. LALLANA (4. TOURE 90′), 11. FIRMINO (9. BENTEKE 77′).
MANCHESTER CITY 1 – 4 LIVERPOOL
Liverpool’s fast play and precise triangles
Pellegrini opted to start with Demichelis instead of Otamendi, the former’s first start since the 4-1 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur. Toure was deployed as one of the double pivots with the Ivorian given freedom of joining the attack, alongside Fernando who had a more restrained role.
Klopp for his part opted for a similar formation to the one he chose in the victory against Chelsea a couple of weeks ago. Firmino found a spot in the starting lineup and Benteke had to be content with a spot on the bench. At the back, Dejan Lovren replaced the injured Sakho.
The versatility of both Lallana as Milner allowed Liverpool to switch their shape between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 depending on the circumstances of play. The 4-3-3 was used to press City high up the field and exert pressure in the opposition’s final third.
A three-pronged attack saw Coutinho and Lallana flanking Firmino who formed a wedge between Demichelis and Mangala.
The wide areas of Liverpool were oriented according to the position of the ball, something that facilitated the arrival of the first goal when Coutinho pressed Sagna, won the ball and attempted to pick out Firmino whose lurking presence was enough to force the mistake from Mangala.
A red wall, the impassable block of Klopp
The expected backlash from City after conceding did not arrive, mainly due to the pressure from the opposition midfield. Liverpool proved very difficult to penetrate, and constantly redirected the play to the right side of the field. The graphic shows Kevin De Bruyne, trying to combine with Jesus Navas some meters ahead but he is unable to draw the defence out of shape. This was the theme of the night as City struggled to overflow the side protected by Moreno (yellow circle).
In contrast, Liverpool showed faster transitions especially through the feet of Milner and Coutinho. The duo did a great job off the ball, after which the dynamism of their offensive players allowed the team to reach City’s half quickly and create numerous goalscoring opportunities. City looked stunned by the speed of the attack and struggled to cope as the scoreline clearly illustrates.
City’s attack looked devoid of ideas, no combinations or fast triangles, only sporadic appearances of Agüero (as see in the picture above) and crosses mainly from the right side of the attack were the main attacking avenues. Without many clear ideas, the home side had to resort to vertical passes and long balls that always they saw Liverpool´s defense well-placed to deal with any potential danger.
Liverpool’s perfect transitions
Any attempt by City to put pressure on Liverpool’s build-up was destroyed by the combination game of Klopp´s team. They formed passing triangles at will where always a corner of it was a free option. This in turn connected the central mdifielders to the wingers. The fact that this passing was at a high tempo only served to increase the potency of the attack.
During the first half of the year, Liverpool failed to exploit well the individual weaknesses of opposing defenses effectively. Klopp’s main achievement in this match was his side’s ability to not only detect but also exploit every weakness of the opposition defense. In addition to the demonstrated efficiency in the variation of pressure, Liverpool also transitioned from a 4-3-3 to a 4-5-1 when Lallana and Coutinho retreated to strengthen the midfield.
The only respite for the Citizens was one of the few mistakes in the visiting defense, one which was punished severely by Sergio Aguero to pull a goal back.
City changes have little effect
The engineer Pellegrini was aware that he must make changes at the break. In the first half, CIty had 66% of possession but only managed 3 shots on goal. Seeking to be more aggressive, Fabian Delph entered the fray replacing Yaya Toure, and Fernandinho came in for Navas. Both changes were aimed at providing more variety and depth to City´s attack but the changes had little effect.
Liverpool came out in the second half with the same intensity as that of the first half. One could expect them to back off and sit on their lead, but Klopp’s team continued to attack with the same tactics of first half. The game continued to develop in similar patterns, a toothless Manchester City side and a Liverpool team who pushed and continued to work the same way as the first half of the match.
After the Palace setback, Liverpool needed this victory against a team of high quality. They played a high intensity game with offensive combinations and very well executed transitions. Positives were few and far between for Manchester City, as they looked like a disoriented team without interplay with defensive shortcomings that Liverpool took advantage of ruthlessly. Agüero and De Bruyne did manufacture individual bits of quality, but the team as a whole must improve if they want to re-establish themselves as Champions.
Written by Nicolas Pernigotti
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