Liverpool continued with Rodgers implementation of a 4-3-3. Sterling was given the nod on the left side of the front three and Gerrard was given his roaming role in the ‘hole’. After the early loss of Lucas, Allen had to pick up a lot of the dirty work that the Brazilian covers. Shelvey helped out admirably as well and went on to become more influential in attack as he helped establish a foothold in the game.
City are trying to adapt to Mancini’s new 3-4-1-2 formation. I have to say they use width fantastically well. They also have the players to keep possession in that packed midfield when needed. As it was, this City team away from home were able to marginally hold the advantage in possession (51%-49%).
Lucas was to leave the field after only 4 minutes aggravating a thigh injury accrued in the warm up. It was a horrid sight for Liverpool fans to witness yet again. Lucas has become so pivotal in that role and such an important cog in Rodger’s plans, that an already arduous task had now become an even bigger challenge. However, step forward Joe Allen.
City were aiming to stifle us early on with prolonged spells of possession and trying their best to set their wide men free. In contrast, Liverpool sat off a little deeper into a containing game and pressed the ball when it came into our half. Shape and organisation were the most important things early on.
One of the key early battles was Martin Kelly on the right hand side. He faced at various times Kolarov and Nasri and on occasion Carlos Tevez. I think Kelly is a hugely under rated player for Liverpool. While we often lament the lack of attacking prowess he has, he is rarely made to look a mug in defence. We can see from the below stats, that like Skrtel, he doesn’t commit himself to ground too often and when he does it’s usually an intelligent decision.
He is no slouch in the air either winning 5/7 aerial duels (acknowledging that only Kolarov is almost equal to him at 6’2” but also bearing in mind the great defensive work he got through at set pieces) and his ground duels won is not to be sniffed at considering his age, experience and level of opposition he is playing against. City had clearly targeted that side, but were left frustrated. As the fates would have it a cross from the opposite side that Reina missed was to bounce off Kelly and allowed Yaya Toure to drill home levelling the scores tarnishing what was otherwise an excellent days work.
Liverpool Key Player: Joe Allen
One of the key performances if unspectacular was Joe Allen’s. With the loss of Lucas, the ability to maintain possession and be an outlet for the defence fell firmly to him. It’s clear that unlike other players Allen was undaunted by this and acquitted himself to the task splendidly. Liverpool fans will not want to see Lucas out for any prolonged period but can be confident that if he is they now have the cover they lacked last season.
In the first half Allen completed 100% of his passes. Over the course of the full ninety minutes this dropped only to 93% which is astonishing. When City were pressing us back it was his calmness and ability to keep the ball and pass it on accurately that alleviated the pressure and allowed us to play our way back into the game.
He lacked the steel and bite of Lucas in the midfield though unfortunately, which Gerrard covered for at times but Shelvey didn’t really assist with. Perhaps Henderson would have been a better foil in the circumstances but with Shelvey contributing well in attack and almost scoring a belter who can fault the decision?
If we take a look at the below table we see he lacks the presence in the air which Lucas excels at despite not being a towering figure, and his strength in the tackle is possibly not up there yet – both of these are things which can be worked on at the gym and in training though so I wouldn’t be too critical at this stage.
What City did really well was to press the defence and hurry them into playing the ball faster. The second goal where Skrtel played a blind ball back allowing Tevez to slip in and finish was a mistake that probably their ninety minutes of endeavour had earned. From a Liverpool perspective it was disappointing to gift a goal in this manner.
They did really well to not only press the player in possession but also to cut off the short passing options as well. And the sight of the ball going back to Reina was very familiar in the opening spell. As was the sight of us playing football facing our own goal which led to some hair-raising moments. Although these screens are taken from just before the goal they are a pretty accurate assessment of how City pushed when the back line was in possession.
Luis Suarez profligacy
Luis Suarez has the ability to infuriate and delight in equal measure. He epitomises Liverpool FC at the moment to me. High risk, high potential. When he made it 2-1 I’m sure there was also a bit of relief in him as well as he had spurned two excellent opportunities to put the game to bed. Firstly a poor toe end towards goal and secondly by not getting his head up to see Gerrard waiting to slot home and choosing instead to play a cross to no one.
He has pretty much continued where he left on last season with massive question marks about his deployment as a centre forward. His runs are often mazy dribbles into and past the opposition and I don’t think he is at all suited to the role. He had only 1 shot on target from 5 and wasted countless other good opportunities by not seeing the pass or playing the wrong pass. For me it was puzzling to see Borini out wide for much of the game, he clearly has the intelligence and movement to trouble defences but doesn’t really have the attributes to offer anything wide right.
Pictured below are strikers runs and as such he should be played there. I don’t think the interchanging position works very well between the two and the desire to get across his man in the box is something we sorely need (movement in the box).
City’s set pieces
Whilst Liverpool’s goals came from a corner and a Suarez stunner (both set pieces), City’s were horrible in comparison. Although Rodgers style is built heavily on possession and recycling the ball it is clear that we don’t neglect the basics in training.
On the other hand City really need to step up their game with regards to them. Free kicks were too easily cleared by the Liverpool defence and when you have players like the two Toures and Kolarov you should really be offering more of a threat. The below graphics probably throw this into stark relief for City fans. I know crosses aren’t ‘set plays’ but thought it hinted at the problem City have that is highlighted by the set play stats – namely the lack of a focal point in attack.
City’s lack of bite
What was interesting in support of the point above was the chances Dzeko was able to carve out when he came on. He could have had a hat trick and that’s no exaggeration. City seemed a bit reluctant to go direct with their set pieces and attacking play – but when you consider the width they have it makes sense that the two go hand in hand. As it was some sweeping moves down the Liverpool flanks petered out and eventually cost City in terms of chance creation.
When they did go more direct it benefited not only Dzeko and Toure but also the smaller players like Tevez as there was more space. Toure’s goal came from when he was pushed forward and the ball was wide – suddenly there was a target to aim for and City reaped the rewards. If this is how Mancini wants to play he needs someone to lead the line. Is this player Dzeko? I’m not sure if City are creative enough to cover his profligacy so I’m thinking a player like Berbatov or Ibrahimovic could really have a massive impact.
For me although Balotelli is being used in this capacity he also comes up short in the role as well. As we can see from the influence graphic, Toure is completely involved in everything City does, but up front they lack the same commanding leader. If I was Mancini I would be considering what options were available for this position as I think it’s a brave manager that would place his faith in Dzeko and/or Balotelli for consistency.
Rodgers long-term philosophy
After the loss of Lucas, if you excluded Reina and Gerrard the average age of the Liverpool side that faced City was 22.5 years old. With Reina and Gerrard it was 24. Liverpool are getting younger and more dynamic as a team. With this comes the obvious pitfalls. Lack of experience leads to mistakes (not attributed to yesterday, Skrtel was experienced enough to know better). But we are no longer going to be playing host to ‘premium’ players. Just as Moyes and Everton have had to take chances on players with injury records, Liverpool now find themselves having to take chances on players who promise much but can fall flat.
In short, the 2-2 felt like a defeat to many Liverpool fans after such an exciting and committed performance. What Liverpool need to be aware of so far is that they don’t let persistent problems mar the bigger picture. What am I talking about? Well indifferent form either home or away first. Liverpool’s performances away from home (Gomel, Hearts and WBA) have been vastly different to their home games (City and Gomel). While it’s still early doors, the warning signs are there and I would hate for it to undermine yet another period of reforming the team.
Secondly, Liverpool need to realise that games against City, United, Arsenal and Chelsea will not have too much of an impact on where they finish. It is their results against the other sixteen or so teams that will give them the majority of our points and dictate the league position. Already they have taken points from City but capitulated at WBA – both indicative of problems they have had for a number of seasons as well.
I think Liverpool really need to instil a winning mentality as well. It was very disappointing to gift the goals away in the manner they did and a more steely reserve would probably have seen them home. They must marry this to the playing style Rodger’s has brought with him.
City have shown that last season’s league championship won’t be flash in the pan and despite trying to change their formation can still get points from games in which they struggle. They took their clear chances when presented which is the hallmark of a team that is up there come May. However, they still look incomplete as though they are still waiting on that player who binds the team together cohesively. I feel Toure is being held back when he should be unleashed and City lack a point of focus for their attacks.