Liverpool – Manchester City: Honours Even In High-Quality Clash (1-1)

This was a high quality match between two teams with ambitious ideas and the ability to carry them out cohesively. City’s possession play was slick in the first half against Liverpool’s pressing, but the home side found momentum in the second half and looked dangerous with transition attacks. Ultimately, the sides were forced to take a point each as the title race continues.

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley

This fixture has been one of the highlights of the Premier League calendar since the arrival of Pep Guardiola to England. The coaching rivalry between Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp tends to produce tactically interesting and complex games which are played at a very high level, so it is unfortunate for the tactics aficionado that this game was to be the last Premier League meeting between the two coaches before Klopp departs Liverpool this summer.

Klopp lined his side up in a 4-3-3 system here, with a back four of Conor Bradley, Jarell Quansah, Virgil van Dijk, and Joe Gomez. The midfield three featured Wataru Endō along with Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister. Up front was the trio of Harvey Elliot, Darwin Núñez, and Luis Díaz.

Guardiola’s side also started in a 4-3-3 shape, with Kyle Walker, John Stones, Manuel Akanji, and Nathan Aké at the back. Rodri, Bernardo Silva, and Kevin De Bruyne made up the midfield three, while Phil Foden and Julián Álvarez flanked Erling Haaland up front.

City strike first

Possession was shared fairly equally over the course of this game. Both teams came with relatively ambitious and cohesive ideas on both sides of the ball, looking to play through the thirds constructively with the ball and pressure proactively without it. In the first half though, it was City who put together the most impressive possession sequences and were able to pull ahead first.

City used a possession structure which has become somewhat familiar from them over the past year. They moved into a 3-2-4-1 structure in possession, with Stones pushing into midfield alongside Rodri, and often moving ahead of the Spaniard. This left a back three of Walker, Akanji, and Aké, while De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva were freed to move into higher positions.

The number tens for City in this game often moved quite wide in order to try and evade the cover shadows of Liverpool’s compact midfield unit. Klopp’s side pressed in a 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 structure, in which the wingers and central midfielders focused on preventing City’s progress through the halfspaces and center.

City were able to find some nice passing sequences early on, as the number tens drifted wider to find space. 

By drifting wider, City’s number tens could find larger spaces either side of Endō, and the high and wide positioning of City’s wingers made it difficult for Liverpool’s fullbacks to push out in order to close this space, while Haaland occupied the center-backs and provided a threat in behind.

Deeper in the buildup, City were also able to find good solutions when Liverpool tried to spring higher pressure against their backline. Here, Stones and Rodri showed good awareness and flexibility to drop into the back three when necessary in order to create the free man when Liverpool’s front three pressured City’s back three.

Rodri and Stones’ smart use of City’s number six zone and awareness of when to drop out of it helped make City’s ball circulation smooth. Liverpool’s central midfielders were also not able to be overly aggressive in trying to limit the space in this area, otherwise De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva would experience too much freedom between the lines.

Liverpool’s resurgence

Overall, City showed high quality possession play against an already strong Liverpool press. They were also able to go in ahead at half-time thanks to Stones’ goal. However, Liverpool were also able to show plenty of quality in possession, especially in the second half.

Things started off well for Liverpool after the break, as they earned a penalty which was converted by Mac Allister to level the scores. After this, the momentum swung Liverpool’s way, and City were not able to demonstrate the incredible composure with the ball that they had done in the first half.

When Liverpool had the ball, they also shifted their structure somewhat. From the original 4-3-3 formation, they could form 3-2-4-1 or 2-3-4-1 arrangements, or other similar variations. Most of this arose from the inverting of Gomez from left back, and the forward movement of Bradley at right back, who provided much of the width from the right. This allowed Elliot to move into the right halfspace, while Mac Allister remained closer to Endō and Szoboszlai played higher around the left halfspace.

Liverpool were able to take plenty of the ball and looked composed in possession. 

Klopp adjusted this scheme somewhat around the hour mark, as he introduced Mohamed Salah and Andrew Robertson in place of Szoboszlai and Bradley. Gomez now moved over to right back where he continued to invert and Salah would hold more width on the right. Elliot moved into the right central midfield position, pushing higher while Mac Allister remained deeper, this time from the left. Robertson naturally played more aggressively on the left than Robertson, allowing Díaz to invert more.

City initially defended from a 4-4-2 shape, especially in their own half. De Bruyne would push forward alongside Haaland to try and initiate the pressure, while Bernardo Silva partnered Rodri in central midfield.

When City went into higher pressing however, Bernardo Silva was able to push up alongside De Bruyne behind Haaland. City then formed either a 4-1-4-1 or 3-2-4-1 arrangement, depending on whether Stones decided to provide cover in the backline or push up to fill the space alongside Rodri.

Liverpool were composed with the ball and were able to wrestle a slight majority in ball possession from City, which is a feat that not many teams can pull off. However, the home side’s best moment still came in transitions, where they showed lethal speed to get in behind City’s defense after turnovers. The opportunities created from this were good ones, and Liverpool will have been disappointed not to have taken them.

Guardiola made changes with around twenty minutes left. He brought on Mateo Kovačić and Jérémy Doku in place of De Bruyne and Álvarez. This meant Bernardo Silva moved over to the right so that Kovačić could play alongside Rodri, and Foden moved into a more central position.

City were able to weather the storm somewhat over the course of the second half. Liverpool created the better chances, but eventually City stemmed the flow, and were able to take a point away from Anfield.


The level of possession play shown by City in certain sequences in the first half was extremely impressive. They lost this composure a bit in the second half and began to look vulnerable against Liverpool’s speed, and were slightly fortunate not to concede another.

Liverpool also played at a very high level. It took them until the second half to really hit their stride, but when they did, City were shaken. With better finishing in the second half, Liverpool may well have taken all three points here.

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Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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