Manchester City and Liverpool is the great classic of football of recent years, and the promise of a great show, for yesterday’s match, was increased by the situation of the table, given that with seven days to go, the two teams were separated by a single point. . They did not betray the expectations and gave life to a match that, although not perfect tactically and not without errors, was vibrant, intense, full of great plays and tactics found.
Guardiola, often accused of “overthinking” in the preparation of the big match, once again disregarded the predictions of the eve of playing Gabriel Jesus, absent from the holders in the Premier League since December. The Brazilian was deployed on the right in the trident completed by Sterling in the middle and Foden on the left. Klopp’s strong choices concerned Jordan Henderson and Diogo Jota, who took their place between midfield and attack.
The match had no study phases and the two teams immediately pressed hard on the accelerator. Liverpool started with a very high pressure on City, displaying a tactical intention which, however, they failed to maintain throughout the match.
We are in the very first minutes of the game. Liverpool have seven men under pressure in the last 25 meters of the pitch.
For the first four minutes of play, Guardiola’s men were unable to overcome Klopp’s aggressive pressure but, on the first occasion, created a very clean scoring action. De Bruyne, author of a great game and fundamental in his conducting ball and chain, launched Gabriel Jesus on the open field. Sterling, in turn served by the Brazilian, missed an easy chance.
Skipped the pressure, De Bruyne can lead the ball in transition in open field. Lethal situation for every team in the world, even for Klopp’s Liverpool.
Having managed to get the ball into the Liverpool area, the City with their gegenpressing managed to keep the action in the opposing half until they scored the advantage with a shot from outside by De Bruyne, arrived two minutes later. Six minutes later Liverpool equalized. An action born from a long opening from the left to the extreme right of Thiago Alcantara towards Alexander-Arnold.
Liverpool’s long pass from left to right. An action that, as we will see, was one of the keys to the possession of the Reds.
On the score of 1-1 the two teams have imperceptibly slowed down and the strategies of the two coaches began to reveal themselves with greater clarity.
The sophisticated possession of the City and the usual De Bruyne
For Guardiola, as always, he had a privileged eye for the characteristics of the opponents and adapted his possession to those of Liverpool. He has substantially changed the staggering of his men in the possession phase to put Klopp’s defensive system in difficulty. City often play the ball possession phase by squeezing the full backs in the middle of the field to offer more support to the low possession and fielding a three-way back line with Walker next to the two center-backs. Against Liverpool, on the other hand, Guardiola has chosen a side with two very wide backs ready to attack the depth; the back line of construction instead was formed only by the two central Stones and Laporte (possibly assisted by Ederson near his own penalty area) supported in the dribble by Rodri and Bernardo Silva, side by side on the midfield line. Against Liverpool’s three-man attacking front, Guardiola wanted to remove simple references to Klopp’s men. The defensive strategy of the Reds was to cover the passing lines, obscuring the center of the field to the opponent’s dribble.
Walker and Cancelo open in possession phase, ready to attack the depth. Liverpool instead try to cover the center of the field.
City was able to dribble with the two central players, Ederson and the fundamental contribution of an excellent Bernardo Silva, deployed for the occasion in a backward position and used for his ability to move between the jerseys of the opponent’s pressing. It was a conservative dribble only in appearance. With only the center forward to move between the central opponents, Liverpool tried to force the pressure by lifting Jordan Henderson on Laporte. His movement was the trigger for the exit from the pressing of the City, thanks to the refined movements of Bernando Silva behind Henderson. Laporte and Bernardo Silva have exchanged the ball on 36 occasions, less only than the Laporte-Stones duo who have exchanged the ball 38 times.
Henderson gets up on Laporte, Bernardo Silva gets into the light zone and receives behind Henderson’s pressure.
Later, outsiders Gabriel Jesus and Foden have instead consistently tightened their position by opening the exterior corridors to Walker and Cancelo. Liverpool chose to keep their full-backs – Alexander-Arnold and Robertson – in marking on the internal movements of the two Liverpool wings, while Mané and Salah were unable to follow the City full-backs for the whole range. Guardiola’s men therefore took advantage of this tactical joint to launch Walker and Cancelo deep after having passed the front line of opposing pressure.
Two launches by Bernando Silva for Walker and Cancelo. In the first image, notice how Gabriel Jesus and Foden’s inside position tightens Arnold and Robertson by opening the corridors for City full-backs that Salah and Mané don’t follow. In the second image Bernardo Silva launches Cancelo with the defense of Liverpool close to the three central strikers of the City.
In general, the attack at depth behind Liverpool’s defensive line, even without necessarily involving the full backs, has been a constant in Manchester City’s strategy. Guardiola’s team played much longer than usual (75 long balls against 48 on average in the league) coming out of pressing. Liverpool have suffered from City’s long play, from the ball too often uncovered, or from a pressing beaten too easily by City. There was also a lack of aggression on the ball, and the defensive line remained too flat and not very ready to escape preemptively. Even in the goal of the City’s doubling, Liverpool’s defensive line was not impeccable, not immediately reading a dangerous and predictable situation because it is typical of the finishing phase of Guardiola’s men, with Cancelo free to raise his head and direct the launch without any pressure .
Cancelo has time and space to play, Liverpool’s defensive line does not read the danger.
Liverpool also suffered from De Bruyne’s position. With the team lined up in possession and Rodri and Bernardo Silva in front of the center-backs, De Bruyne raised his position to just behind Liverpool midfield. From there he then conducted lethal restarts and served dazzling assists for geometric beauty.
De Bruyne is perfectly positioned behind the pressure of Thiago Alcantara, from there he receives and serves Sterling in depth, who scores a goal disallowed for a microscopic offside. In the third slide, in full recovery time, De Bruyne serves Mahrez who misses the winning goal only in front of Alisson. In the first case, De Bruyne’s assist passes to the mililmeter between Van Dijk and Robertson, in the second between Matip and Van Dijk.
The right side of Liverpool
Manchester City faced Liverpool’s possession with a 4-4-2, lifting De Bruyne on the same line as Raheem Sterling. The two forwards had to obscure the passing lines towards Fabinho. With the two winger against the two Reds full-backs, City tried to concede numerical superiority to Liverpool in the area between central and midfielder, guaranteeing a 4 back line against the opposing trident. Klopp tried to deconstruct the defensive system devised by Guardiola by moving the midfielder and, in particular, Thiago Alcantara, on the outer flank of the central players. The movement of Thiago, already observed on the occasion of the start of the action that led to Diogo Jota’s equalizer, triggered a series of movements that Liverpool tried to exploit to their advantage. Gabriel Jesus was often lured into the pitch under pressure from Thiago Alcantara, allowing Liverpool to exit left on Robertson freed from pressure from the City’s Brazilian winger.
Thiago Alcantara lowers himself, drawing pressure from Gabriel Jesus. Robertson is released and served by passing by Van Dijk.
At the same time, Liverpool have always tried to isolate a man on the right flank, usually Alexander-Arnold. With Salah ready to tighten his position and Henderson entering the center, Alexander-Arnold often attacked the depth and was the target of long passes from the left. It is on that side that Liverpool have prepared most of their attacks.
Like the action of the first goal, that of the second comes from a long pass from left to right for Alexander-Arnold. Note the lineup of Liverpool that develops on the left with Van Dijk and Thiago Alcantara low, while on the weak side Salah tightens and Henderson enters, opening the corridor for Alexander-Arnold.
The equalizer, born from a long pass by Van Dijk for Alexander-Arnold, was favored by a big positioning error by Walker. In an easily readable situation, the Englishman was unable to keep the line with his teammates and lost sight of Mané behind him.
With seven days remaining, Manchester City and Liverpool are still only one point away in the standings, and the fight for the title has not taken a precise direction after the direct clash. City are the team that comes out with the most regrets: they have been in the lead twice and had the best chances to win the match. Guardiola has once again shown his tactical mastery and found ad hoc solutions to put Liverpool’s defensive system in difficulty. The open position of the full backs, the races behind the defensive line, the backward use of Bernardo Silva as a pick against the opponent’s pressing and that of De Bruyne between the lines, have defined a coherent and effective system, which used the long game more insistently than usual. Also for this reason the match between Manchester City and Liverpool was a game full of transitions, played with extreme intensity on a wide field, where games of great technique and intelligence were consumed. A spectacular match that leaves the title race in the Premier League open to any outcome.