Liverpool 1-1 Man City: a point apiece
A good game, but not a particularly fascinating tactical battle.
Kenny Dalglish brought Stewart Downing in for Maxi Rodriguez, whilst Craig Bellamy was excused for personal reasons, with Jordan Henderson coming in – although with Kenny Dalglish wanting to be solid in midfield and after Henderson’s fine substitute appearance at Chelsea last week, this switch might have been made anyway.
Roberto Mancini left out Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli, with Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri coming into the side.
City started well, the middle of the game was evenly-balanced, then Liverpool dominated late on (especially after Balotelli’s red card), but both sides will be happy enough with a point.
With lots of versatile attacking players on show, there were plenty of possible formations for both sides. Dalglish went cautious with the use of Dirk Kuyt wide on the right and Henderson tucked into the centre of midfield alongside Lucas and Charlie Adam, whilst Mancini used his usual 4-2-3-1, with David Silva central.
City were set out with the intention of retaining the ball. With no Balotelli there was no outright power from wide, with no Dzeko there was no direct option. Instead, Aguero dropped into deep positions, and Silva and Nasri wanted to play short passes. In the first 20 minutes City outpassed Liverpool 158-108, but barely created a chance.
The most interesting aspect of the first half was how Liverpool played without the ball – they started off dropping very deep, a la Napoli, which is the natural approach when playing against small, quick, technical players. Liverpool were being dominated too much, though, and midway through they half started pressing higher up, with Charlie Adam and Henderson getting tight to Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure. Now, there was more space in the midfield zone and between the lines, Liverpool needed a good performance from Lucas, who was superb at winning the ball.
The game was enjoyable yet not particularly fascinating in a tactical sense. There were no free players in midfield, and few chances created from open play. The goals came in a three-minute spell and both were fortunate – one a huge deflection, the other a mistimed header from a corner that looped in.
The tactical interest came from smaller battles. First, whilst Suarez didn’t get on the scoresheet, he got the better of Vincent Kompany, who was desperate to get tight when Suarez dropped deep. Kompany is excellent in a ‘traditional’ centre-back sense, doing the dirty work inside the penalty area, but he is less confident against a player who combines pace and intelligence – Suarez pulled him up the pitch then turned quickly. Kompany picked up an early booking, and ran the risk of a second on numerous occasions.
Second, Joe Hart was superb in goal, but his distribution was frequently wasteful. There’s barely any point hitting the ball long towards Aguero and Silva when they’re up against Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, and whilst Balotelli had little impact on the game as a whole, at least he won those high balls. Scroll over the chalkboard below to see that Hart’s only successful long goal kicks came after Balotelli and Dzeko came on to provide aerial ability, another reason why, like Spain, they need a direct option upfront to compliment the smaller technical players.
Third, with Silva nullified well by Lucas, City didn’t get Nasri or James Milner inside into central playmaking positions to ease the creative burden on Silva. In the chalkboard below, neither attempt any passes from near the ‘D’ on the edge of the box. Both stayed wide and stretched the play – Nasri, in particular, could have been more involved and looked to play a couple of threaded through-balls, but the positions of his passes are that of a conventional winger rather than a playmaker pushed wide (which is surely what he is, and where his talents lie, and even though he stayed wide to good effect against Spurs, that was when he had a target man in Dzeko to provide crosses for).
The overall tactical battle was static – unlike at Stamford Bridge last week when the managers responded to each other’s decisions, only two things really altered here: Balotelli came on for Nasri, then both managers brought on a central striker, Dzeko and Andy Carroll. The only change to the pattern of play was that all three new arrivals encouraged their teammates to go more direct with their passes – for Liverpool it nearly worked brilliantly, but Carroll’s header forced a great save from Hart in stoppage time.
A point suited both sides. City retain their five-point lead over Manchester United at the top, Liverpool continue their two month unbeaten run. The home side naturally went for the win more, and after the late spell of pressure the shooting statistics read 18-7 by full time.
Overall it was a stereotypical Premier League game – fast and frantic, but relatively little technical brilliance.