Manuel Pellegrini put out a strong side, with Sergio Aguero as the only notable absence – they were fortunate to have Pablo Zabaleta fit to start at right back, while Demichelis was dropped to see Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott start at centre-back. It was a 4-2-3-1 with Silva in the number 10 role, which provided an extra creative body as opposed to two strikers.
Brendan Rodgers lined Liverpool up as expected, unchanged apart from the return of Aly Cissokho at left back in place of the injured Jon Flanagan. His high pressure, highly fluid and creative 4-3-3 system had been working a charm in recent weeks, and decidedly the all guns blazing approach was chosen over a more protective three at the back.
The key aspects the tactics board looks to highlight is the mobility of Zabaleta, not only to attack the final third consistently but also tucking back in and doing the dog work out of possession. Kompany kept with his usual trend of carrying the ball out of defence when given the opportunity, as a result of this he ended up much higher up the field than Lescott on the average positions graph.
Nasri played a very narrow game as he does, drifting into the middle to be involved in the short build up play, even coming over to the right flank at times. Silva also tended to move right, but got the ball in deeper areas too. Liverpool hoped to dominate the midfield again with Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson up against Fernandinho and Toure. The high pressing game discussed in previous weeks would look to be continued.
Raheem Sterling caught the eye yet again with a solid tactical performance with and without the ball, his game was summarised by his bursting diagonal runs from the right, which saw Liverpool trying to break the City lines with through balls into his path. Clearly hard done-by for his offside *potentially would be* goal, and a slight lapse in technique for his close range effort, and it was a game of high’s and low’s for the bright youngster.
For City attacks down the right, nearly everything went through Jesus Navas and Pablo Zabaleta, with Silva often drifting across to link up in these areas. A massive 42% of City’s play went through the right as opposed to just 29% on the left which goes to show just how influential Zabaleta can be. Liverpool are similarly capable of these overloads down the right when Glen Johnson is in form, however this was not one of those days.
Skrtel will be the target of a lot of criticism in the coming weeks, as for many Liverpool fans he may now have overstayed his welcome as a mainstay in the back four. A few key issues have begun to damage the team in the last couple of weeks, for example his marking on set pieces, organisational skills, level of comfort on the ball, and general positioning.
Many in the mainstream media have picked up on Skrtel and his shirt grabbing on corners, which featured again against City. What’s more concerning than him risking a penalty is the knock-on effect it has for the team.
As people have pointed out, yes a lot of the time he isn’t even looking at the ball when attempting to win his battles. But more importantly, even if he is looking at the ball he is usually too tight to his attacker to get there first. I will use City’s first goal as an example:
For me, Mamadou Sakho is far better in the air than Skrtel. From watching him in every game he has played he has always seemed dominant without being reckless, and fearless but calculated and clever in both aerial and ground duels. That is not to say he wins them all, but when organising the set-pieces, in my opinion he should be marking Kompany every day of the week.
In the image above you can see Skrtel who has been chosen to mark him, and Sakho who has been put against Lescott. Now, players tend to have different definitions of what is meant by ‘touch tight’. This is perfectly illustrated by Skrtel giving Kompany a hug, and Sakho with a steady arm out to stay close and move with Lescott. Skrtel has got himself so tight to Kompany he now can’t even move around him to get to the ball first. He may think he’s just doing his job but any coach worth his salt will tell you getting that tight is not sensible, and it’s cost Liverpool a crucial goal.
Having monitored the trend, I feel it isn’t a coincidence the type of goals Liverpool have been conceding with Skrtel back in, but whether Rodgers believes it is a fixable problem remains to be seen.
Despite City taking the points this was a very close game. They shaded possession with 51.9% and completed 31 more passes with 444, while both teams managed 88% accuracy with their passes. They were also very closely matched in the final third with City’s 78% accuracy to Liverpool’s 76%.
City created more open play chances with 13, however Liverpool were very patient and calculated when they did dominate the ball. As a result they created some extremely high quality chances, including 3 clear-cut chances, of which they only converted 1. This also was evident in their only goal, a result of some quick passing exchanges between Henderson, Suarez and Sterling before Coutinho finished.
Liverpool also attempted a massive 29 dribbles to Man City’s 13. This is largely down to having Suarez, Coutinho and Sterling on the field at the same time. Coutinho was in fact very wasteful with the end product following his dribbles, and on three or four occasions opted for a low cutting shot, which trickled tamely wide on each occasion. This brewed visible frustration from his fellow attackers and also may have contributed to Rodgers withdrawing him in the last two games, after some particularly poor decision making.
A tough defeat for Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers to take, which may have landed the manager in some hot water with the FA. However City took care of business at home and limited Liverpool and particularly Suarez as best as they could, while still managing to make their chances count.