Liverpool 2 Manchester City 2 : Story Of A Match
Blogger, philosopher, lifelong mate, never wants a passer-by to pass him by. Blogging at www.holtamania.com on all things Norwich and here with monthly Story of a Match pieces, bre...
The second weekend of the Premier League season saw an intriguing match up between Liverpool and Manchester City. Today on the blog, Matt from Holtamania takes a closer look at the contest and delivers his unique post-match analysis
This was always the most intriguing of early season match-ups. It’s often said that retaining a title is harder than winning it, and Man City are going to put that to the test. Up against them was the in-transition Liverpool now helmed by Brendan Rodgers. It’s early days for Rodgers so we were never going to see Liverpool as he would love to see them, but instead a team featuring some of the hallmarks of his possession style – and some of its drawbacks.
Even before the game began there are eyebrows raised at the team selection, on both sides. An unexpected 3-5-2 sort of system was implemented by Mancini who saw Silva and Lescott (among others) drop to the bench to accommodate Balotelli and Toure. Milner and Kolarov were expected to perform the duel duty of defence and attack on the wings, neither being names that immediately jump out as natural all-rounders. For Liverpool, it was a surprise of youth; Raheem Sterling got his first Premier League start at the expense of Downing while Coates was given a go in defence. Immediately there were a couple of intriguing match-ups, not least Sterling against Milner.
Liverpool, despite their inconsistency, tend to do well against better teams: they raise their game. Today was no different, as they looked the more incisive and comfortable on the ball. Man City seemed hindered by their own system, lacking any natural width further up the pitch.
The Allen and Gerrard Partnership
Joe Allen is a key man for Brendan Rodgers. A lynchpin in his Swansea system, his move to Liverpool didn’t surprise many and on today’s showing, he’s settling well. His passing was always composed and quick, moving the ball between lines, finding an open man and he always offered a return ball. While plenty of these passes went sideways or backwards, they always served a point; keeping the ball moving, finding space and retaining possession. Keep hold of the round white thing and it’s pretty hard to lose, basically.
Gerrard, on the other hand, is an unknown in this type of system. He tends to represent a more hustle and bustle midfielder, grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck, not afraid to launch a 60 yarder. Many wondered whether he’d have the discipline for a more withdrawn, patient game. Today went to show that he does. While he misplaced a few more passes than Allen, he was the ideal companion – someone who was more attacking, attempting to play balls into the final third and bring the attackers into the game. This is pretty clearly demonstrated by Allen not once getting the ball into the box, but Gerrard succeeding. It was an effective partnership, aided by Shelvey who replaced Lucas early on.
Liverpool Going Forward
Unlike the midfield, Liverpool’s attack still looks like it’s getting used to Rodgers’ system. Suarez’s scampering often came to nothing, though he did fire in a great freekick, and Borini looked ordinary and one paced. You get the sense he would be happier in a more central role, as out on the right he saw less of the ball, and did less when he got it.
On the other side of the pitch, 17-year old Sterling put in a promising debut, a more effective performance than you’re likely to get out of Downing at the moment. Aided of course by going up against a midfielder rather than a fullback, Sterling was able to use his pace to keep Milner pinned back and limit the threat Man City posed down the right hand side of the pitch. Sterling was also useful on the ball being a direct, pacey runner who is threatening down the line as well as coming infield. He linked well with his fellow midfielders and repayed the faith Rodgers’ showed in selecting him. It wasn’t brilliant; his final ball will need work, but the kid is young and will grow with every top level match he plays. For Liverpool fans it was a bright spot, and everyone will enjoy watching him grow.
City Going Forward
The effect this had on Man City’s attacks was pretty clear too. Kolarov was the more likely to get forward, and Milner put in a mere 3 (unsuccessful) crosses all game. It wasn’t until the system was changed up with the introduction of Rodwell, allowing Toure to get forward, that City grew in influence and looked capable of winning it. Throughout the game they were … a bit plain. The guile of Silva was missing, Balotelli looked hot and cold, and De Jong looked like De Jong. It was as if Mancini was trying to prove a point with the ‘fringe’ players available, trying to loosen the purse strings as the window draws near to an end. Tevez was the brightest player, a complete pest again showing why he’s worth putting up with. He’ll be a huge player for them this season, presuming he doesn’t go on holiday again.
Aside from Toure’s equaliser, the goals came from quite isolated incidents. Liverpool’s pair came from set pieces, a corner followed by a fortuitous free-kick. For all the effort being put in to turning them into a well-oiled passing machine, it isn’t yet working in the final third, and good old-fashioned set pieces saved them here.
This highlighted one of the drawbacks of Rodgers’ style; the lack of goal threat. Suarez is becoming known as a dodgy finisher, and playing a system which places aesthetic quality almost as highly (if not equal) to result is going to cause problems. For all of the comparisons to Barcelona, the latter have clear dynamism when working the ball forward, which Rodgers has often lacked. His system often seems more defensive. It can flatter to deceive.
Pressing Liverpool High
This is further highlighted by how Man City eventually got back on level terms. One thing some teams learned last year was that pressuring Swansea very high up the pitch, making their defenders uncomfortable and making Vorm kick it long, was key to beating them. It deprived them of possession and levelled the field. Man City kept Balotelli, Tevez and Nasri constantly up the pitch and putting pressure on Coates and Skrtel, as well as the fullbacks. The aim was to either force them into a mistake or make them pass it back to Reina and force a long kick. When Skrtel buckled and passed a ball straight to a waiting Tevez, it wasn’t as if they hadn’t been warned.
This occurred not long before, with a backpass being laid in front of an onrushing Reina who barely hits it before the City forward arrived. This was coming, and it was foolish of Skrtel to not look before passing, and even more foolish not just to hit it. Rodgers has since come out to say he’s fine with it, that this is part and parcel of learning to be confident in the system and that he doesn’t want the easy route being taken. The easy route may have saved them 2 points and helped them beat the champions. Sometimes it might be worth having a plan B – something he definitely didn’t have at Swansea.
You can see just how often Reina kicked it to an opposing player above – all those red lines. Vorm, in the final fixture of last season vs Liverpool, is just as bad kicking it long but is afford much more freedom in keeping it short. Liverpool didn’t press high and suffered for it on the day; they let Swansea have it easy. Man City never made that mistake, and they got their reward with the poor backpass. More and more teams will put Liverpool under pressure in this way and Rodgers will have to develop a plan B in these situations; it isn’t merely a case of having his players be confident in possession and able to work around it. The reason this sort of system is likened to Barcelona is not many teams have the quality to make it work at its purest level. I doubt Liverpool do.
With this in mind, it was a promising game for Liverpool. They look like they are moving in the right direction and the players have clearly bought into it, which is a start. If they can get the attack on the same wavelength as the impressive looking midfield, they will prosper. If they fail to do this, or fail to have some sort of alternative when things aren’t going their way, then they might stumble.
For Man City, it was just an unusual game due to the formation and personnel chosen. Mancini clearly wants to bring in new faces and when you see players like Milner at wing back and Kolo Toure lining up, you can see his point. To retain the title they need to be better.
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