In the second game week of the Barclays Premier League, the champions from the blue side of Manchester were faced with a tricky task at their home, versus the runners-up Liverpool. City pulled through as eventual winners through a second half adaptation of Manuel Pellegrini, a strong defensive structure, and some offensive issues from Liverpool.
Liverpool coach Brenden Rodgers decided upon using a 4-1-4-1/4-3-3, with relatively safe and more stable player types. Joe Allen was inserted onto the half-left eight position and Lucas fell out of the starting line-up. Allen played here more vertically and slightly more creative than Lucas, but was also because Liverpool weren’t operating with the double six. Defensively something fairly interesting was the deep positions of the eights. The Citizens played out of their 4-2-2-2, as they have done since the arrival of the Chilean coach, with the usual freedom and central-oriented movements from the nominally wing based Nasri and Silva. Different initial roles of the fullbacks and the newly signed Fernando ensured a stability that City haven’t always had.
Liverpool’s defensive alignement:
Liverpool acted out of a 4-1-4-1 arrangement in a deep midfield pressing with the main focus being to control the centre through occupation. On the wings there were different roles for Sterling and Coutinho, and because of this it led to a slight asymmetry and diagonal slant of the midfield band. Coutinho was strongly man oriented on Zabaleta, and moved with him very fixed. Occasionally this created moments of a back five, which helped in another important aspect. On the other side Sterling played extremely indented and stood in the halfspace along with Hnederson. The purpose of these roles was very clear: Coutinho to stop the offensive power and influence of Zabaleta, and Sterling (in conjunction with Henderson) to cover the left attacking halfspace which is seemingly Silva’s favourite zone to move into. Interface passes to Silva were hardly a possibility in the first half.
Again Liverpool had good control of the centre and showed a good vertical compactness. The eights stayed deep and close to Gerrard to protect the halfspaces more effectively, and no gaps were opened in the middle. This quite passive approach from the eights meant that sometimes The Reds struggled for access and Manchester City had comfortable possession in the midfield zones through Yaya, Fernando and the constantly relapsing Nasri. Nasri played as usual a big role in ensuring stability, accuracy and rhythm for City’s possession in the centre. His repeated deep position here also meant that Fernando (not his strength) didn’t have to be too involved in the possession but instead could contribute only infrequently. Henderson sometimes tried to run forward here with momentum, but the distances were too great. Only a few times Allen and Henderson ran diagonally and increased compactness well. Yaya Toure completed 85 of his 91 passes at 93%, Fernando 61 of 63 at 97% and Nasri 69 of 77 at 90%. In the middle third even more impressive Nasri made 39 of 42 passes at 93%. Nasri to Toure and Toure to Nasri were the two largest figures for passing combinations. These figures showcase how easy it was for City to play with a midfield possession and Liverpool’s inability to disrupt. One nice feature of Liverpools defensive game however was the exceptional anticipatory movement and reverse pressing actions of the eights when the fullbacks of Manchester City had possession. They played here something passing lane oriented and intercepted any diagonal pass attempts to the attacking halfspaces.
Manchester City’s offensive review:
Jovetic moved occasionally on the left wing for balance and support for Clichy. These dodging actions to the wing were mainly to allow David Silva to play infield and position himself in left attacking halfspace. Jovetic from here played very simply and created no real advantages, but also the movement to the wing caused even more ability for Liverpool to cancel David Silva from the game. Now there was less presence at the tip, and Skrtel was able to perform aggressive out back sprints towards Silva and he could never find time with the ball. Another major issue of City was the limited offensive use of the fullbacks. They were very restricted and stayed in the second third when City had the ball. This was maybe to control the movement to the wing of Daniel Sturridge. This was problematic because it allowed Liverpool to play even more compact horizontally and add presence to the centre. Coutinho no longer was consistently with Zabaleta so tight, but instead connected closer to the midfield beside Joe Allen, and on the right Sterling never had to detach from Henderson and if pressure needed to be exerted on the wing then this could be produced from the very aggressive out back pressure from Glen Johnson and brief moments of 3-6-1 were formed, passes through the interface were never to be seen. City as usual wanted to play offensively predominantly through the middle and penetration by way of the interspace. City’s game was too focused in the centre and not enough in the halfspaces. Liverpool were more compact here than in the halfspaces and also had bigger presence, therefore Manchester City found penetration fairly difficult. The entries to the interspace for the hosts were never clean and a good interaction hardly could be realised. City wanted to get to this zone horizontally with combinations started off by Nasri using either moments of diagonal dribbling here, or passes towards the interspace from the halfspace. However this couldn’t be realised because of the aggressive man coverage on Nasri from the new recruit Alberto Moreno. This is where the lack of offensive actions of Zabaleta wasn’t active to run behind Moreno through his too deep position along with the man orientation from Coutinho, and thus Moreno could be extremely proactive here to disrupt Nasri. City’s only potentially promising situations in the defensive third of Liverpool came on fast breaks when Liverpool couldn’t stand in their compact 4-5 lines, and the Reds were disorganised. These fast breaks were when the dodging actions of Jovetic worked well. Time after time Jovetic was stationed wider as the outlet for transitions, he played as the catalyst and accelerated the ball far forward. These attacks could be sometimes thwarted however by good strategic positions of Steven Gerrard and he secured Glen Johnson well enough to slow down the counter attacks and allow Liverpool to return to their midfield zone pressing.
Liverpool’s offensive attempts and the interaction with the defensive organisation of City:
Liverpool in their attacking phase weren’t too interesting, sometimes Sturridge and Sterling would change positions. Sturridge would go to the right wing to free himself from the shackles of the always proactive Kompany and Sterling would look for gaps in the middle. In moments Henderson and Allen played extremely vertical and roamed in higher rooms in the tens room, however they were never really productive here and couldn’t join in the possession game. Liverpool’s best opportunities to find gaps were in the rooms behind the cavalier Yaya Toure. Sterling and Coutinho both could (depending on the side of the field Yaya was based) easily move horizontally into holes behind the Ivorian and from here attempt to use their dribbling to create something. One of the major problems of Liverpool was that they did not have the appropriate graduations in the higher rooms to allow good interactions or combinations to take place, and their forward progressions were often slowed down and moved to the wing too often. Liverpool were also too slow in their actions and not vertical enough in their passing from the midfield. Again later in the half Liverpool could establish more midfield control, and the falling back of Sturridge was a contributor to this, but also created a problem. Not enough presence to connect to the front and the structures in the higher rooms were even more vacant. Liverpool’s struggles were also a result of the solid defensive game of City. City were very compact especially in the final defensive third, and the wingers especially Silva played their role very disciplined and guided the game well away from the attacking halfspaces. This in turn took away certainly the influence of Sterling and somewhat Coutinho. In their orthodox 4-4-2 defence, Silva played very narrow and acted almost as an additional central midfielder. This allowed temporary moments of variable width from the midfield and defensive lines. This because through Silva’s central orientation, Clichy could stand wider and run out fast at Glen Johnson or more infrequently Raheem Sterling. Liverpool’s attacks seemed to be more focused down this side, and therefore this compactness and good mechanisms on the left were strong in destroying the attacks of Liverpool.
Liverpool’s build up:
Liverpool played out of their build up with the usual wide fanning out of the centre backs, and the centrally tipping actions of Steven Gerrard to secure. City couldn’t gain access with their 4-4-2against the ball and any sporadic forward pressing sprints of Jovetic or Dzeko were easy to play against. Joe Allen’s role in the build-up was mostly as a room opener for Coutinho, and he did this by attempting to elicit Yaya Toure from his central position with many tilting actions to the defensive halfspace or towards the centre. Lovren could sometimes now play flat vertical passes to the skilful Brazilian, or Joe Allen himself could pass the ball around Yaya Toure. Fernando did well to perform good securing actions and slowed potential attacks down. In moments it seemed as if City wanted to force the game construction on Lovren and Dzeko and Lovren took man marking duties on the tipped Gerrard and Skrtel. In these situations the ball circulation of the Reds slowed and their good rhythm broken. City maybe showed have looked to try this strategy more often.
Good adaptation from Pelligrini:
In the second half Pelligrini made a clear strategic change in possession to find a breakthrough. There was now a clear right focus in possession, Silva travelled large distances to play closer to Samir Nasri, and along with a more vertical Yaya Toure. City could now play with their awesome triangle game, using fast, accurate combinations to open space and create chances. This overload of the right offensive halfpspace was possible also with the increased offensive presence of Pablo Zabaleta. He advanced along the wing to balance and to interact occasionally with the three City midfielders. He could also open the halfspace by eliciting Coutinho as he returned to his man coverage on the fullback. Jovetic was now not so much on the left wing, but instead played as the clear deep-lying forward seeking rooms to make vertical links and overload. This right focus was seen after the game by the huge 51% of City’s attacks coming from the right-hand side.
Substitutions and Goals:
Markovic entered the game to make his debut and played on the left wing replacing Coutinho. The idea behind the change was maybe to add increased penetrating power through linearity and vertical running. This nearly formed an instant impact with a breakthrough on the left nearly arising, but the desired conclusion did not come.
After the second goal of City Liverpool stood higher in their defensive order now, and they were no longer so compact especially in the interspace. A couple of longer passes from City both lobbed and flat were able to find the two strikers and from here they looked to create many dangerous situations. In addition, a lack of a ten in their higher (and standard) 4-1-4-1 defence showed a strong formative weakness, and Silva rather intelligently moved diagonally backwards and formed a triple six in moments with Yaya and Fernando.
Also after the second goal Gerrard was trying to play more vertical and played not so deep anymore. Some longer balls to Sterling were tried, but never connected.
City performed well in a game that they were not the strong favourite, however Liverpool largely underwhelmed. An impressive defensive structure, a physically superb back six and an in-form Jovetic could allow City to produce a strong title defence.