Charles Onwuakpa analyses Manchester City’s comprehensive 5-0 victory over Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium
The international break brought no joy for Klopp’s side as they were humbled by the men in blue. Braces from Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane guaranteed Manchester City a comfortable win, as they cynically took advantage of a nasty challenge by Sadio Mane on Ederson which had left the Reds down to ten men towards the end of the first half.
Manchester City 5-0 Liverpool
Man City (5-1-2-2): Ederson; Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Mendy, Danilo; Fernandinho; De Bruyne, Silva; Aguero, Jesus.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Klavan, Moreno; Wijnaldum, Henderson, Can; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Mendy exposes Otamendi at the back
City’s ten man defence meant that they had full cover of the pitch’s width. Using a very high defensive line, City’s wing backs could press Liverpool’s full backs in buildup: this mainly happened down the left, as Mendy was more aggressive towards Alexander-Arnold while Walker on the other hand was more cautious.
The problem was that the French international often pressed too early and exposed Otamendi at the back. With Salah very wide Liverpool could easily drag the Argentinian out of position and expose him to dangerous 1vs1s.
Otamendi’s rash style of play didn’t help matters too: he couldn’t deal with the pace of Salah and was by no surprise booked in the 6th minute due to a clumsy foul on the Egyptian. Liverpool soon recognised his weaknesses and often tried to feed Salah the ball quickly, with Firmino as well making attacking runs in behind Stones and increasingly stretching the space between City’s five man defence.
Liverpool had big moments but never really created big chances as Salah’s end product was often poor. Mane’s somehow debatable sending-off only made matters worse for Liverpool as well as showcasing once again Manchester City’s terrible application of the offside trap.
De Bruyne runs the show
Despite their defensive problems it was Guardiola’s boys who took the lead. They pressed very high up the pitch and forced Mignolet to play long balls, where their aerial abilities and quickness in attacking second balls made them dangerous on the break. This happened in the 24th minute when Henderson failed a clearance and Kevin De Bruyne quickly served a beautiful through ball for Aguero, who, as expected, did not fail to score past Mignolet.
In buildup City didn’t have many problems: Liverpool sat a compact, medium-high 4-1-4-1 block and, except Firmino, none of the forwards pressed with intensity, allowing Fernandinho to get access of the ball and quickly switch play towards the flanks, mainly to the left one where Benjamin Mendy outmuscled Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Alternatively, David Silva would drop towards the Brazilian to ease the buildup, leaving De Bruyne in the attacking third and with Sergio Aguero to come deeper and link play up with success.
As said earlier, it was the Belgian’s slick delivery which killed the game: after a disallowed goal some minutes before, Gabriel Jesus got on the scoresheet towards the end of the first half by heading home an inch-perfect cross from Kevin De Bruyne, who created three chances and assisted two goals.
Klopp’s changes and City’s dominance on the left flank
After Mane’s red card, the visitors shifted to a 5-3-1 with Emre Can dropping into a right centre back role and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming on for Salah. City now became very comfortable in possession and didn’t allow Liverpool to get out of their own half for most of the game henceforth.
Despite Liverpool’s timid resistance, they once again got exposed on second balls and counterpressing: Fernandinho’s through ball split Liverpool’s defence in two and an unselfish Aguero gave Gabriel Jesus a brace on a silver plate. 3-0 after 53 minutes and game over.
Liverpool’s passive defending was once more exposed when Leroy Sane came on for Gabriel Jesus: the German exchanged quick one-twos with Silva and Mendy which disrupted the visitors’ defensive shape many times, especially on the left wing.
Even though Klopp brought on Dominic Solanke and James Milner, Manchester City were all over the place: a beautiful, curled effort from Sane in injury time was all but a proof of how City had dominated the game (they had 64% of ball possession at the end of the match).
Liverpool had good spells in the first half but lacked in quality in the final third; Mane’s red card too also left Klopp without his best player of the season so far as the Senegalese will miss his next three games, pending appeal.
On the other hand, it was a comprehensive win for Guardiola, whose team can arguably boast the best attacking options in the league: they were shaky at the back (Otamendi could have been sent off in the first half if put under more pressure) but deserved all three points thanks to their “false 8” Kevin De Bruyne and the attacking duo of Aguero and Jesus, who, against the odds, have been doing quite well so far together.