Liverpool are coming off a 120 minute loss in Turkey to Beşiktaş, knocking them out of the Europa League as Manchester City struggled against Barcelona in the Champions League, conceding two away goals. With that, the two sides meet on the end of disappoint, in a match that means a lot for both sides.
Rodgers and Liverpool are looking to continue their push for a position in the top four. Rodgers made four changes to the side that lost in the Europa League with Toure, Ibe, Sturridge, and Balotelli dropping out of the starting XI while Markovic, Henderson, Coutinho, and Lallana are all selected in Liverpool’s 3-4-3/3-4-2-1.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side had the chance to close the gap between themselves and Chelsea to just two points with a win (though Chelsea would have a game in hand as they play in the League Cup final this weekend). Manchester City’s midfield duo from that match, Milner and Fernando, were dropped to the bench in favour of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, while Clichy and Demichelis are also dropped with Mangala and Kolarov coming into the starting XI.
One of the best aspects of Liverpool’s play against the reigning Premier League champions was their pressing. Manchester City started each half very brightly and had more of the ball in the first half compared to Liverpool, but the Merseyside club were able to gain control of both halves starting with their good work off the ball. Throughout the match, they defended in a mid-block. When Kompany and Mangala had the ball, the Liverpool midfield would sit right on the halfway line, cutting off passing lanes to the likes of Silva and Nasri, who pinched inside, and to Sergio Agüero and Edin Džeko, who were dealt with well by the Liveprool back three throughout the match. Below is a good example of Liverpool’s midfield. Allen and Henderson would push forward to support Sterling’s pressing and Coutinho and Lallana would move out wide (as you can see with Coutinho below) to limit the influence that the Manchester City full backs could have.
You can see both Yaya Toure and Fernandinho are almost horizontally in line with the ball, while there is no Manchester City player in the huge space in front of Martin Skrtel in this particular screen capture, this is the space that David Silva found successfully throughout the first half, including just before Džeko’s equaliser.
When Manchester City would play the ball back between the lines, whether it were the forwards to midfielders, midfielders to defenders, or defenders back to Hart, Liverpool consistently used this as a trigger to try to put the receiver under immediate pressure. This was particularly effective when the ball was passed back to Kompany and Mangala as Sterling and another were able to put them under a huge amount of pressure as Liverpool’s midfield outnumbered Manchester City’s. The opening goal was a terrific example of this as Fernandinho played a ball back to Kompany, Coutinho pressured and won the ball off the Manchester City centre back, launching Liverpool’s counter attack which ended in Henderson’s excellent goal.
Liverpool’s pressing became even more effective in the second half, however, as they were able to assert their dominance on the ball. Allen and Henderson were able to starve David Silva of the ball, limiting Manchester City’s forward passing. Liverpool had about 54% of the ball in the second half and were able to sustain the pressure they put Manchester City under with their good pressing, the away side’s sloppy play and poor clearances as well as the pressure that Allen and Henderson put on the Manchester City players as they tried to work out of the back in the centre of the pitch.
Allen and Coutinho
The duo put in outstanding performances in midfield for Liverpool, with Lallana and Henderson doing very well too. Allen was certainly the understated man of the match, as he limited the influence that David Silva and Yaya Toure had and kept things very simple when in possession of the ball. Silva was starved for space when Manchester City were in possession of the ball, especially in the second half when the Spaniard was forced to take up positions in the wide left of Manchester City’s attack as Allen controlled the area of the pitch that saw the Spaniard pick up the ball for Džeko’s goal in the first half. While Allen limited the space that Silva could play in, he (and Henderson) did an excellent job of harassing Yaya Toure when the Ivorian got on the ball. As soon as Toure got on the ball in midfield, Allen was there and forced Toure into poor decision making, despite getting on the ball so often.
Allen, much maligned for his play on the ball, often criticised for only playing square and back passes, kept the ball moving very well for Liverpool and often found Coutinho and Lallana with good passes into their feet in the space between the lines. At times he would drift beyond players with a good drop of the shoulder of feint, before finding a good pass out wide to Moreno, who provided Liverpool with good width, if not great delivery, during his time on the pitch.
With Liverpool outnumbering Manchester City in midfield four to two, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho struggled when Liverpool had possession. They were constantly caught between sitting a bit deeper to minimise the impact of Coutinho and Lallana or pushing forward to pressure Allen and Henderson, which left a huge space for Coutinho and Lallana to thrive in. Unfortunately for the away side, the duo often pushed forward and this allowed Coutinho a huge space to receive the ball in and run at Kompany and Zabaleta. Below is an excellent example of this and as you can see Toure and Fernandinho are caught in between the duo of Henderson and Allen and the pair of Coutinho and Lallana meaning they were relatively ineffective.
Manchester City Fail to Attack Wide
One of the weaknesses in Liverpool’s formation is that against a team playing full backs and wide midfielders or wingers, the wing backs can be exposed to 2v1 situations. Overall, Manchester City failed to exploit Moreno and Markovic. David Silva and Samir Nasri both looked to come inside, where they enjoy playing, but this meant that Moreno and Markovic only had Zabaleta and Kolarov to deal with. When Manchester City did attack out wide with both Silva and Nasri and their respective full back overlapping, Liverpool were continually exposed. An excellent example came right after half time when Silva found Nasri in a 1v1 situation against Moreno. Nasri held the ball up and waited for Zabaleta, who had Coutinho tracking behind him, before playing the ball for the Argentine, who crossed the ball in and found Agüero, only for the striker to head over.
As the match went on and Liverpool had more possession of the ball, Pellegrini took off Džeko for Milner, which moved Silva inside, though he was unable to find space with Allen doing well to push him back out wide. With Silva’s movements out wide, Manchester City looked to move the ball out wide, but the intention was never to create chances in the wide areas, but rather shift the Liverpool defence from the central areas and then look to exploit spaces in the middle. In the passing diagram above, you can see a large number of passes into the wide area, but most are well in front of Liverpool’s penalty area, rather than trying to penetrate against Moreno.
Liverpool put in a better team performance, with Allen, Coutinho, Henderson, and Lallana doing very well for their side while the likes of Kompany and Yaya Toure struggled. Kompany made a number of mistakes and Toure was sloppy going forward. Liverpool were able to limit the influence of David Silva and Sergio Agüero, with Manchester City recording just one shot on target, that being Džeko’s equaliser.
Liverpool continue to put pressure on Arsenal and Manchester United for a place in the top four after starting the year in very poor form, while Manchester City remain five points behind Chelsea with the London club having a game in hand.
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