Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City: Liverpool find space between the lines
This game was over by half time as Liverpool scored three goals in the opening period.
Kenny Dalglish gave a start to young John Flanagan at right-back, and played Fabio Aurelio at left-back. The front six was as expected, in a 4-4-1-1.
Roberto Mancini rested a couple of players ahead of next week’s FA Cup semi-final, giving a start to Edin Dzeko upfront, with Carlos Tevez in behind. James Milner started on the left.
The first half was about constant Liverpool pressure. Both sides tried to press in the first few minutes, but Liverpool settled much quicker and passed the ball better, and had wave after wave of attack.
Problems in the hole
Manchester City’s main problem was an inability to deal with either Luis Suarez or Andy Carroll dropping deep between the lines. Most frequently this was Suarez, who drifted around the pitch and proved very difficult to pick up, though Carroll sometimes switched places with him (see the through ball to Suarez when the Uruguayan hit the post) and Dirk Kuyt also came in from the right to move into central positions.
City’s lines of defence and midfield were simply too far apart, and it’s quite simple to pinpoint the problem here – they were without their usual holding player, Nigel de Jong. For most of this season, he has sat in the deepest midfield position and allowed Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure to play higher up the pitch. Neither Barry nor Toure are strangers to the holding role (they’ve done so with England and Barcelona respectively), but here they seemed trapped in their usual mindset of having an extra midfielder to sweep up behind them, and wanted to pressure Jay Spearing and Lucas Leiva, leaving gaps behind them.
On the other hand, Carroll and Suarez’s partnership looked extremely promising. In theory they are a classic duo – a tall, powerful number nine and tricky, quick player who moves into space – and the theory translated well to the pitch. Carroll may have got the two goals, but Suarez was superb – finding room throughout the game and distributing the ball well with first time passes out wide.
Carroll’s passing chalkboard looks less impressive on first glance, since he recorded just a 50% pass completion rate. However, considering that many of these are flick-ons and knock-downs for his teammates, the low figure is excusable. If you click ’show numbers’ below, and see that he found Suarez six times in positions on the edge of the box, his contribution in looks much better.
Mancini was forced to bring Tevez off the pitch with a hamstring injury, and sent on Mario Balotelli instead. At first he played in Tevez’s role off Dzeko, but then Mancini changed his system and moved to a 4-5-1 formation with the Italian on the left, and James Milner tucked into the centre of midfield. This allowed a triangle in midfield, presumably an attempt to shut down the space between the lines.
Liverpool’s attacks continued, however, and Suarez was intelligent enough to get into dangerous positions regardless of City’s switch. Kuyt’s goal was at the end of another attack where Suarez played the ‘link’ role, whilst Carroll’s second came from a Raul Meireles cross – he was given time to play the ball because Dedryck Boyata was concerned about Suarez’s run past him, and so was slow to close down. Liverpool were 3-0 up at the break.
The second period was almost entirely without incident, though it was notable that Liverpool continued to press and close down well all over the pitch, working well as a unit and denying City time on the ball in midfield.
Amongst the star performers here were Kuyt and Meireles, who tucked in narrow and won plenty of tackles in the midfield.
City were completely unable to deal with Liverpool’s forward duo, particularly when they dropped deep. It’s fair to attribute this roughly 50-5o between Liverpool attacking well and City defending very poorly. It’s unlikely Liverpool will come across many other sides who play so poorly in that crucial zone of the pitch.
That said, even after City switched to a 4-5-1, Suarez’s movement was still fantastic and he found space in different areas – in the channels, on the flanks and in deeper positions. On the basis of this game, his best position is in the centre of the pitch, rather than the wide forward role he occupied at Ajax.Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City: Liverpool find space between the lines