Liverpool – Manchester City: Liverpool Take Decisive Step Towards First Title In 30 Years (3-1)
Liverpool scored twice in under fifteen minutes through Fabinho and Mohamed Salah, putting the game out of reach of a Manchester City side who had played well despite the scoreline. In the second half, Sadio Mané added to the advantage and encouraged Liverpool into a more attacking and expansive game plan. City eventually came back with a Bernardo Silva goal and forced Liverpool to become more conservative, but Klopp’s increasingly defensive substitutions ultimately secured the three points.
Tactical analysis and match report by Om Arvind.
Manchester City were in somewhat of a desperate position coming into their weekend game at Anfield; they sat six points off the top of the table and had been destabilized by injuries to Aymeric Laporte and John Stones. This prompted Pep Guardiola to experiment with a number of back lines, eventually settling with Fernandinho at center-back even when Stones returned to the side to replace Nicolás Otamendi in late October.
Hence, it is not too much of a surprise to see that had City conceded the highest shot quality in the Premier League by a significant margin. This would spell doom for most teams, but the Citizens’ dominance over possession and pressing game have ensured that they only allow the fourth lowest expected goals The amount of goals a team is expected to score based on the quality of the shots they take. in England by virtue of leaking a league low 6.4 shots per game.
With an offense that ranks far and above anyone else in Europe, Guardiola’s men would feel entitled to a third straight league title if they played in any other Premier League era. Instead, they have to face Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who not only possess an imperious attack of their own and a very stout defense, but have managed to significantly outperform their underlying numbers.
Liverpool have also made a name for themselves as City’s worst tactical enemy, due to their lightning transitions and ability to create turnovers in the center of the pitch thanks to their pressing traps. A pressing trap is a predefined plan to leave a particular player or zone open, to invite a specific pass. Upon a pass to that player or into that zone, a rapid coordinated team press on that player or zone is exerted.
Guardiola faced this challenge with a squad that was further diminished by the absence of starting goalkeeper Ederson, who got injured in the recent Champions League fixture against Atalanta. In his place, Pep selected 36-year-old Claudio Bravo, who was supported by a back four of Kyle Walker, Stones, Fernandinho, and Angeliño. In midfield, Kevin De Bruyne and İlkay Gündoğan accompanied defensive midfielder Rodri, while Bernardo Silva, Sergio Agüero, and Raheem Sterling played in attack.
Klopp also had to deal with injury troubles, having to replace Joël Matip with Dejan Lovren, but had the luxury of including his best goalkeeper Alisson Becker and center-back Virgil van Dijk in the lineup. The ever-present duo of Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold played at fullback, behind a jack-of-all-trades midfield consisting of Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho, and Jordan Henderson. Up front, Klopp stuck with the deadly Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah.
Liverpool strike first following some VAR controversy
The start of the game immediately presented Manchester City with a familiar challenge – building up against Liverpool’s 4-3-3 high block. A high block refers to a team that regularly leaves their own half out of possession, to disrupt their opponents far into the attacking half.
Liverpool’s 4-3-3 high block .
Liverpool’s primary objective is to bait passes into the middle of the pitch, which then triggers a multi-directional press on the ball receiver. In the 2017/18 season, City fell for it and got ripped apart in their second Premier League encounter and in the Champions League. Fast forward to last season and Pep had significantly changed his approach, going more conservative and seeking to progress mainly down the touchline.
Liverpool are prepared for that and the work-rate of their forwards allows their shape to quickly become wing-oriented, but the risk-averse nature of building down the wings limits the number of dangerous turnovers that Liverpool can create. Thus, through this method, City were able to grind out results against the Reds that ultimately culminated in a narrowly captured league title.
In this match, City appeared braver and more offensive, but it was difficult to say for certain in the time between the start of the match and Liverpool’s goal. Before patterns of play had properly established themselves, Liverpool counterattacked following a controversial handball incident in the sixth minute. Mané charged down the left wing and put in a cross that was cleared poorly by Gündoğan. Fabinho picked up the loose ball in time and space and rifled home a screamer from distance.
Manchester City show off some quality buildup play, yet Liverpool pick up a decisive lead
Despite conceding an early goal, City’s possession play remained firm and fashioned some beautiful sequences against Liverpool’s fearsome high block. Contrary to past games between the two sides, Guardiola ordered his team to play more passes towards the middle of the pitch. However, instead of trying to continue building play from that position, he had his central midfielders quickly pass the ball back to their fellow center-backs, before play was sprayed wide.
By entering central lanes, City were able to manipulate Liverpool’s front three into a narrow position, as they tried to engage in their backwards pressing. By quickly playing backwards and moving wide, City were able to exploit this narrow positioning and could put their fullbacks in a position to play forward passes relatively free from pressure.
City’s high press also helped them nullify much of Liverpool’s threat and maintain superior possession of the ball.
Manchester City’s wing-oriented press.
De Bruyne would push out of midfield to create a nominal 4-4-2 defensive formation. Once the ball moved wide, usually to Liverpool’s right, Gündoğan would step up onto Fabinho while Rodri would shift over to mark the near side central midfielder. City’s far side winger would pinch inwards to negate Liverpool’s numerical superiority in midfield.
It worked to good effect until the 13th minute, when Alexander-Arnold delivered a scything crossfield pass to the free Andrew Robertson, which allowed the left back to burst into City’s final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. in an instant.
Fullback to fullback to winger and a press is just completely destroyed.
Most aggressive presses give up the cross field switch because they’re secure in their ability to recover given how long the ball is in the air.
Can’t recover against that TAA ball though.
— Mike L. Goodman (@TheM_L_G) November 10, 2019
With three elite forward options sprinting forward, Robertson picked his head up and delivered an equally gorgeous pass to the far post, where Salah skillfully headed the cross back where it came from and into the net.
The 2-0 lead caused Liverpool’s midfield to become a bit more cautious with their positioning, despite the team maintaining their same high line of engagement. This made it easier on City’s buildup play but Liverpool were able to quickly reorganize into a deeper 4-5-1 shape and pack numbers behind the ball when City advanced. As a result, despite all of City’s promising play for the rest of the half, Liverpool limited them to marginal shots and maintained their 2-0 lead going into the tunnel.
Liverpool score an early third goal and dominate the ball
With five minutes in the second half barely being played, Henderson received the ball on the right touchline from a throw-in, created separation from two City players, and curled a cross into the box. Mané arrived at the back post and headed an effort into Bravo, whose wrists wilted and spilled the shot into goal.
Liverpool reacted to their gargantuan advantage somewhat surprisingly – instead of shrinking into a shell, they attacked more vigorously. From the 50th minute to the 74th minute, they held 63% possession. Seemingly buoyed by their three-goal lead, Liverpool looked more at ease against City’s press. Alexander-Arnold, in particular, was key for his skill at playing vertical passes towards the front three – a critical part of Klopp’s game with the ball – in addition to his switches of play.
Alexander-Arnold managed the most progressive passes out of anyone on the Liverpool team.
While Liverpool’s aggressive approach did create a decent shot for Firmino in that period of time, it also possessed sizable risks. Manchester City began to counterattack with greater frequency, though they ruined their opportunities through poor touches or passes. The 58th minute was a particularly dangerous time for Liverpool, as City strung together two counterattacks in quick succession that could have easily resulted in better shots on goal.
Manchester City attempt a comeback by relentlessly attacking down their left
Around the 75th minute, Man City finally re-established control of the ball – managing 77% possession until the end of the game – and began to relentlessly pump their attacks down their left flank. The objective was to target Liverpool’s protagonist – Alexander-Arnold – whose defensive skills do not quite match what he can do on offense. With De Bruyne often shifting over to the left halfspace, If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. City circulated the ball in rondos and used the high and narrow threat of their central midfielders to pull Alexander-Arnold inwards and create space for Sterling to dribble into the box or for Angeliño to get off free crosses.
In the 78th minute, City’s ploy got them a goal. After Angeliño’s first free cross was intercepted in the box, the left back quickly received the ball back and pummeled in a low, driven delivery. It was blocked, again, but fell to Bernardo Silva in the box, who clinically found the bottom corner.
Klopp responded by substituting off Firmino for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The hardworking former Arsenal winger took Salah’s place on the right flank and tracked Angeliño in an effort to counter City’s growing dominance.
It helped, but the increasing influence of Sterling and his ability to combine with De Bruyne in tight spaces ensured that City consistently threatened the box. Furthermore, City are so good at manipulating space, that Angeliño still got a free cross in the 86th minute, when Rodri joined De Bruyne to overload the left halfspace and force Liverpool’s right side to collapse inwards. Kyle Walker got his head onto the delivery but sent his effort over the bar from close range.
One minute later, Klopp substituted off Salah for Joe Gomez, the latter of whom would play at right back for the rest of the game. This pushed Alexander-Arnold into right midfield and forced Oxlade-Chamberlain to move to the left flank. The defensive change, along with some scuffles and skilled time wasting, prevented City from managing another shot, allowing Liverpool to come away with a 3-1 victory.
As José Mourinho remarked post-game on Sky Sports, Liverpool have all but wrapped up the league title even though they cannot let themselves think that way. Overconfidence is the ultimate enemy of elite sports teams and Klopp has got to find a way to keep his side grounded while simultaneously using this massive win to build morale and healthy self-belief.
Guardiola will be devastated to have so thoroughly lost a game that was rather even on the balance of play, but, as the kids like to say, “it be like that sometimes.” Football is a game where variance and ruthless finishing rules and Liverpool deserved their win for how clinical they were in their opponent’s box. Thanks to that, a Manchester City three-peat looks incredibly unlikely and Pep now has to do his utmost to prevent his team from losing all hope.
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