Liverpool host Manchester City in the Champions League in what promises to be the first of two outstanding games of attacking football.
Liverpool are back in the quarter finals for the first time since 2009 and like that time, they come up against English opposition in Europe in the form of Manchester City. The sky blue of Manchester come into the game in high spirit after between cross town Liverpool rivals, Everton, 3-1 to carry them a step further in clinching the league title.
Both teams come into the game in good form and on paper, City look nailed on to win the tie but we know strange things happen in Europe. We take a tactical look on how to play Manchester City.
Liverpool come into this game with a slight injury concern. Nathaniel Clyne is back in contention after making bench at the weekend but Adam Lallana is ruled out after picking up an injury against Crystal Palace. Klopp is sweating on the fitness of Emre Can having missed the weekend action as a result of a back injury injury that flared up on international duty. The back five picks itself from the weekend, with the only possible change being at centre-back. Jürgen must make a choice between bringing in Dejan Lovren or sticking with Joel Mätip. The midfield is a real conundrum. I expect Klopp to make a change by replacing one of James Milner or Gini Wiijnaldum for Chamberlain, with the former looking the most likely candidate. The front three picks itself.
For City, Pep Guardiola used a back 3 at the weekend & he could well go with that again. City are out of options at left back, with both Delph and Mendy out injured. Surely this kind of game will prove too big for young Oleksandr Zinchenko. I expect the exact same team that won at Everton to start the game.
Fernandinho is a fantastic shield for the Man City defence. He wins a lot of tackles in midfield and he’s also good at passing the ball forward with a passing accuracy of 92.8% in the Champions League. Klopp needs to work on him because when pressed, he can be rattled. Last time these two met in the league, Liverpool pressed him to the point that his link-up play between his centre-backs became sloppy.
Also, pressing him can also make him lose his head and force him into careless tackles which can attract a yellow card. Fernandinho is also a yellow card away from a suspension in the return leg, after picking up 2 yellow cards in the competition so far. Pressing him will not only help to win the midfield battle, but could also lead to a costly careless tackle from the Brazilian.
Exploiting Second Balls
City have tall defenders and often have no issue in clearing crosses. However, they are poor at defending second balls from the wing. An often symptomatic issue with the use of wingbacks, there’s often no one covering the area behind the often naive defender filling the space. Klopp needs to have someone to close to the wing back areas, particularly in Leroy Sane’s position, who is certainly not a natural wing back.
Press The Side Centre-Backs
This area is critical, if Pep lines up at a back 3. When our front three is in full flow they thrive against clubs playing 3 at the back. They’re able to isolate the defenders, effectively making it a direct 1-v-1, which Arsenal found out to their detriment in August.
Despite a stellar season so far, Man City can only really call Vincent Kompany experienced in such a big game. Otamendi and Stones can panic when put under pressure. Kompany will try to coordinate from the middle but he won’t be able to protect either of his defensive teammates if Salah, Firmino or Mane isolate one of them.
Roberto Firmino’s stellar performances & tireless work-rate deserves a higher goal return in the Champions League this season. He’ll line up centrally but his unique movement will be invaluable as ever when off the ball. His task will be to drag the City defenders out of position to create space, we all know he’s capable.
Every bit of Liverpool’s attacking play will revolve around him, as the man that makes the 3 man attack click.
Through Balls Down The Channel
The side CBs v Mane and Salah is a key battle. Mane & Salah are especially effective when given space & playing a through ball into them can be deadly However, it’s essential Liverpool exploit the channel’s, not just the wings. The pace of any of the front three can cut through the City defence, as the Sky Blue’s defensive line moves forward when their team has possession.
The balls will need to be measured accurately, with Ederson eager to get off his line & cover. As we saw earlier in the season when Mane was sent off, it can result in last ditch interventions. It’s just as likely to lead to the keeper being sent off this time around however, as long as Liverpool execute this perfectly.
Get Into Sterling’s Head!
Raheem Sterling has never finished a game against Liverpool at Anfield, since joining Manchester City. He’ll want to prove a point on a Champions League night & under Guardiola it’s clear Sterling has matured significantly. Anfield will be the deciding factor here, with the hostile atmosphere expected it’ll affect Sterling more than most. If The Kop get’s into him early, we’ve seen his head go before & we won’t see the player that has ripped apart plenty of defences this season.
Anfield – The 12th Man
Right from the day the draws were made, City have been worried about the reception they will face at Anfield before kick-off. That the Mancunian club have gone to the length of reporting fans to the police already has done nothing but rile our fans. The police will be on high alert quite rightfully outside the stadium, but they’ll have no one to protect them during 90 minutes of noise from The Kop.
For all their quality, these City players will come up against an intimidating Anfield crowd in a cold European night. For many of City’s young squad, it’ll be one of the toughest games of their career. Many great results have been decided by the crowd at Anfield & fans will know they can have that influence again.
Expect Low, Hard Crosses
Neither of Gabriel Jesus nor Sergio Aguero are the tallest of strikers but they are known for scoring simple tap ins as a result of their smart movement off the ball. City’s trademark attack starts from the wing with hard and low crosses pumped into the box at pace. These low crosses cause a lot of confusion as a slight touch can cause a loose ball in the box or cause an own goal if not properly defended with van Dijk a victim of that when he played against them in the league this season with Southampton. Any low cross need to either be trapped well or cleared effectively.
Unusually Man City are quite deadly from set pieces, especially corners in the UCL this season. John Stones and Nicholas Otamendi have scored a total of 4 goals between them all from their heads. Liverpool need to be wary of this threat especially if City start 3 CBs, whilst in Kevin De Brunye, City have one of Europe’s assist kings. The least corners & unnecessary fouls around their box that Liverpool concede, the least vulnerable they’ll be
Avoid 1-v-1 Situations
Pep will look to create 1-v-1 situations to get at Liverpool’s centre-backs. Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling & Leroy Sane can do damage against the likes of Van Dijk, Lovren or Matip if isolated. The best form of protecting the centre-backs would be to allow Liverpool’s deepest midfielder to shield. It’s likely to be Jordan Henderson, who can stop any overloading from advancing City midfielders & cutting down the space between the defence & midfield that can be exploited.
Trademark Short Passes
When Gabriel Jesus leads the attack, City tend to play quick 1-2 passes around the final third. Vigil van Dijk will need to organise the defence to make sure they don’t lose their defensive shape as those kind of passes can drag defenders out of position and create room to cause havoc.
David Silva – Kevin De Bruyne Combo
This is one of Europe’s deadliest midfield combo. On their day, both midfielders can unlock any defence. With Pep likely to play a 3 man defence, both midfielders might have designated roles in the setup. From the Everton game over the weekend, De Brunye was playing a deep lying playmaker role while Silva was further advanced in a 10 role behind the strikers. Both players were quite effective in their roles as David Silva had 2 assists while De Brunye assisted the other goal. Stoping these two from playing is a must.
Liverpool need to be compact at the back especially the middle to restrict Silva’s movement and options to link up with the strikers while the attacking trio of Liverpool need to shadow mark the players close by to force De Brunye to pass long balls over the head than ground balls as he’s known for passing ground balls more.
Doube Press On The Flank
With City playing 3 at the back, Mane and Salah will need to help out in defending against the wingbacks. Once any of City’s wingbacks is on the ball, the forwards need to help out whoever is facing the wingback to press and win the ball back. With City’s wingback further up, there will be enough space behind to exploit.
Sadio Mane needs to be really solid as he’ll be up against Kyle Walker who is really good going forward and solid at recovering back.
Mohamed Salah v Aymeric Laporte
Salah is in a rich vein of form where any game he’s involved he tends to contribute to a goal. Laporte has taken some time to adapt to English football but he’s starting to show signs of being settled to City’s game. Laporte tends to drive forward a lot; how he recovers back to face the pacey Egyptian will be tested.
Sadio Mane v Kyle Walker
Against Everton, Kyle Walker was almost playing as a winger. Yannick Bolasie hardly troubled him all game but in Sadio Mane, he’ll be facing someone who can match him for pace. Mane will need to make sure Walker isn’t given free licence to roam forward easily by being a constant threat to him.
Jordan Henderson v David Silva
Jordan Henderson isn’t having his best season but he’ll need to be at his best on Wednesday. David Silva is arguably Man City’s most inform players. The diminutive Spaniard has had his off field issues but has remained unplayable on the pitch, especially in tight spaces. Keeping Silva quiet must be Henderson’s priority.
Dejan Lovren & Virgil Van Dijk v Gabriel Jesus & Raheem Sterling
Liverpool’s strongest CB pairing on paper against two of City’s dangerous duo. Both defenders need to be solid against trickery and pace the City duo possess in abundance.
Trent Alexander-Arnold v Leroy Sane
This is one duel nearly every Liverpool fan dread to see right from the moment Joe Gomez got injured on international duty. Trent Alexander-Arnold has gotten some sticks over the past few weeks for his defending against Manchester United and Crystal Palace with both teams scoring their goals from his position. On Wednesday night, he’ll come up against Leroy Sane. The German has fully settled in at City and is having a great season.
Trent will have to be on top of his game to stop the flying winger.