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Football News: Manchester City v Liverpool - A Quick Liverpool Perspective

Manchester City v Liverpool - A Quick Liverpool Perspective

Manchester City v Liverpool


A typical early Saturday kick-off - lacking in intensity and atmosphere, though to be fair the lack of atmosphere is something that is usually levelled at the Etihad anyway, so probably not the fault of an early kick-off. It was not aided by the way both managers approach these matches, with far too much respect for each other. They mostly set their teams out to nullify the other, with their priority being not to lose first and foremost. Understandable to a degree, but it would be nice to see a bit more risk taking and excitement. One thing that is clear, after facing each others' teams so often over the years, both Klopp and Guardiola have become very good at nullifying each other. In fact far better than they are at exploiting their opponent's weaknesses.

From the Liverpool perspective, or any other team for that matter, going to the Etihad and holding them to a draw has to be seen as a good result. However, it was frustrating to see how rarely Liverpool really went for it and pressed Citeh high. Especially as the times they did press high Citeh invariably lost the ball. What makes it even more frustrating is that Klopp and his backroom staff initially developed the 'gegenpressing' system specifically to deal with teams that play the way City do, so why has he stopped using it against them? When a team fully commits to a full high pressing game against them, Pep Guardiola's teams have always been prone to conceding goals, yet so few even try to do it. They take so many chances in possession that, even as good as they are, mistakes will be made and they tend to be in very dangerous areas. They try to bait you in, but they do it by taking big risks and that can often backfire on them. Unfortunately most teams go there, cede possession, drop deep and let City play around them easily and just look to keep the score down rather than try and take the game to them.

The worry was the way the team chose to play it about the back, with little real ambition to get it forward quickly. Van Dijk got one long diagonal out to Salah wrong and then never tried it again, despite it being on all the time. Instead the defence constantly messed about with it deep, which led to Alisson's mistakes on the ball, as he was under pressure and tried to stick with that plan of continuing to play it out. I am also concerned by the lack of movement in the team when it gets the ball, they were far too static with little in the way of the pass and move that Liverpool's success has always been built on. If you are going to try and play a short passing game, which seems to be the way LFC are going for the long term, you have to have movement to pick out with the pass, to move the opposition around and to create space. Without that, you are simply asking to be closed down and put under pressure.


This season's City team are not looking anywhere near their best again, but they are still the team to beat in the Premier League. In fact, I have to say there is not one team in the Prem this season that stands out as firing on all cylinders. There are flashes from a lot of teams, moments of good play, the odd good game, but mostly teams seem to be stumbling to results. It is a very odd season this one so far. Teams seem to be much more reliant on the individual quality of players to get a goal when it matters, rather than outplaying their opponents on a consistent basis. City were a bit like that last season as well, but when you have Haaland up front you can usually rely on him to score enough to win most games.

City's attacking plan against Liverpool was very clear, use the wingers to get in behind. Mostly Doku on their left looking to exploit the space left when Alexander-Arnold drifted inside in his inverted full-back role. They did look at Foden against Tsimikas early, but Foden was found wanting and easily dealt with as he wanted to cut inside into traffic. It was mostly left to Doku to carry the threat for the team, but he was very well dealt with, despite his blistering pace. Alexander-Arnold simply made sure to keep him on his outside and gave him space to ensure he could not just push it past and cut inside. That left Doku able to 'dribble past' for the stats, but unable to actually effectively beat the full-back, instead he was just being held up until he was facing two or three players. What surprised me is that Guardiola never looked to try something else, he just continued with it even though it was not working. That is a big reason for the game fizzling out as an attacking showpiece.


Quick notes on the players:


Alisson - that could possibly have been his worst game in a Liverpool shirt and yet he still came up with some good saves. It just shows the level of performance he has reached that this game will be seen as so bad. If it was almost any other keeper in the Prem we would hear about the saves a lot more, but Alisson makes those kind of saves look so routine that nobody even notices.

Alexander-Arnold - even putting aside the goal, which was very nice, that he scored, Alexander-Arnold had a very good game. Almost every attack was aimed at him, yet he constantly did his defensive job and dealt with the pressure he was under very well. It was nice to see him showing that he can defend one-on-one as well, despite so many claiming he is hopeless at it.

Matip - overall a very good game from Matip, covering when needed and dealing with most threats. However, his lack of awareness at City's goal is still a worry. He never noticed Haaland was right next to him, in fact he never even took a look around him at all, which is unforgivable for any player in any position. He did make up for it, but it is something that he really does need to work on, it is not asking much for him to glance around him regularly rather than getting caught ball watching constantly.

van Dijk - it seems like teams are once again trying to avoid attacking where he is, certainly City looked to avoid him when possible. Understandable when is in this kind of form.

Tsimikas - improving game by game and looking very much a part of the team, rather than a weak link now. Handled Foden very well, shutting him mostly out of the game.

Mac Allister - his best game so far for Liverpool. A difficult game but he managed to get fully involved both offensively and defensively. It is hard to tell whether he is getting the hang of the position now or if the game just played into his hands, as City rarely attacked down the centre.

Szoboszlai - while he was not as visibly good as he was in the early weeks, he was still all over the pitch and provided a lot of protection to the defence. He seems to be playing a bit more responsibly, which is limiting his attacking threat but helping make the team more solid. He was dropping in and covering when Mac Allister got forward. In fact the midfield three almost played like a flat three with Alexander-Arnold dropping in behind when he inverted.

Jones - looked rusty and played like a player who has been missing for a while. To be fair to him, this is not the game to try and find your feet as you get so little time and so little of the ball.

Salah - could possibly have done more to help Alexander-Arnold defensively, but then him holding further forward stops them being able to commit more bodies forward, so it is a double-edged sword. Looks a step slower than usual and is no longer able to just attack full-backs the same way in this role. He is getting them more isolated than he used to, but now tends to end up having to stop and then often just knocks it against the defender in front of him. Salah is so much better when he is receiving the ball on the burst and that needs to be looked at to make sure that when a pass comes in to him it is when he is making a run.

Nunez - I am tempted to give him man of the match simply for his ability to make Guardiola blow his top at the end of the game. It seems Guardiola is happy to give out stick and celebrate in Tsimikas's face when his team scores but is not so happy when the boot is on the other foot. That is even though Nunez just asked him the same question he asked Tsimikas, without jumping into his face with his arms wide and screaming it at him. On the pitch he is always a menace and his pace frightens defenders into dropping off, which gave Liverpool a little more space to play in when they did get the ball - once they got it out of the defensive third that is.

Jota - this is not the game for Jota, he struggled to get involved as he is always reacting rather than anticipating. He just does not have the football intelligence to understand where he should be going until too late and so often ends up just running about like a headless chicken. Against a team like City, who are mercilessly drilled to play their passes by instinct, you are always going to struggle if you are not able to understand what they are trying to do and move to anticipate it.

Diaz - came on in the 54th minute for the ineffective Jota. He was not much more effective than Jota, but he did worry their defence more, though that could have been just as much about him having fresh legs as his ability.

Gravenberch - another unsurprising substitution as the Dutchman replaced Jones, who was struggling badly, also in the 54th minute. Provided a burst of energy and pace in the middle going forward, something that had been missing until his arrival. Always seems to affect the game positively as a substitute with his ability to carry the ball forward at pace and pick a pass at the end of it.

Gakpo - replaced Szoboszlai in the 73rd minute. Came on at the right time as the Hungarian was just showing signs of flagging. It was surprising that Elliott's arrival did not see him moved forward into the attack though. Instead Salah moved inside and Elliott went wide right, while he continued to play in midfield.

Elliott - brought on in place of Nunez in the 85th minute. It was more about shoring up the team to hold onto the point than anything else. Though he did attempt to have an impact.

Endo - took the spot of Mac Allister in front of the defence in the 85th minute. Showed the pragmatism that Guardiola always likes from his midfield when he picked up a yellow card for taking out a runner. It is the kind of thing that you hate when an opponent does to your team but you appreciate when one of yours does it.

Written by Tris Burke November 28 2023 11:09:00


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