Manchester City made their first big statement of the new season with a punishing display against a Liverpool side who were gutsy but failed to take their chances, ultimately suffering from individual errors – a common theme from last season.
Manchester City made a couple of changes to the back line, with Gael Clichy at left-back and Pablo Zabaleta at right-back. Otherwise they stayed the same, keeping the same 4-4-1-1 with Stevan Jovetic playing in behind Edin Dzeko up front.
The midfield two of Fernando and Yaya Toure meant less dovetailing, it was more Fernando taking the bulk of responsibility protecting the back four, and Toure with more licence to get forward, however, his positioning seemed slightly reserved despite this. As for Silva and Nasri on the left and right, they both drifted centrally to get involved in the short build up play – their system looks increasingly like a 4-2-2-2.
There was only one real question mark over Brendan Rodgers line up which lay with the full=backs. Javier Manquillo didn’t do much wrong against Southampton, however he made way for Alberto Moreno to make his debut at left-back, with Glen Johnson switching to right-back.
The rest of the line up was as expected, a 4-3-3, with a midfield triangle of Gerrard, Henderson and Allen. This system seems to be Rodgers’ favoured defensive tool. Joe Allen is Rodgers go-to midfielder for away games, he seems to be able to get all of his tactical instructions spot on, and along with Henderson provides the energy required to carry out the pressing game smartly.
The shape of the midfield three as shown above is difficult to penetrate (which proved for much of the first half) compared to a midfield 2 with a number 10 like we saw against Southampton. The 4-2-3-1 leaves the defensive two flat and exposed if you can get past the number 10:
Below, you can see how this set-up was intended to make Liverpool: 1) difficult to break down, 2) able to dominate the ball in midfield, and 3) able to press without it:
These tactics were not enough as the game unfolded, with Liverpool undone by some crucial defensive errors, and brutal finishing from Manchester City, who were the worthy winners. A lapse in concentration from new boy Alberto Moreno, an unnecessary step out of defence from Lovren, and a suicidally high line after the introduction of Aguero left Liverpool cursing their finishing which could have sealed the game early on for them.
Having said that, they looked worth a punt for pulling it back to a draw after the introduction of Lazar Markovic. Coutinho on the left was understandably not at his sharpest in some uncomfortable full-back positions when Liverpool were defending deep. After City introduced Jesus Navas, it became obvious they no longer wanted a player to break down the defence, rather someone to counter. They were happy to sit a bit deeper and break into the spaces behind.
City tightened up at the back by introducing Fernandinho to sit alongside Fernando and push Yaya Toure higher up, however Liverpool briefly stepped it up and maintained some fight until the whistle, despite going down to 10 through injury and suffering set-backs for Johnson and Moreno (who fought on until the whistle rather than reducing Liverpool to 9).
City, along with Chelsea, appear to be the teams to beat from the early stages. They showed that they have the power required in all areas, total strength in depth, and the finishing power to blow teams away. Liverpool, however, should not be disheartened, as their performance for the majority of the game outlined them as organised, dynamic, creative and capable. A few tweaks for Brendan Rodgers and some strong players yet to come into his side should be keeping his spirits high. After all there may only be 1 team, maybe 2, who go to the Etihad this season and win.
Images via Whoscored.com, Data source: Opta