LIVERPOOL were on the front foot against Manchester City in September before Sadio Mane was sent off – but how did they do it and can it be done again?
Jurgen Klopp’s side had shown early promise at the Etihad, with Mohamed Salah missing a golden chance in the 22nd minute before Sergio Aguero slotted City ahead two minutes later, against the run of play.
Liverpool remained the side that looked more likely to score until Mane was dismissed for a high boot on ‘keeper Ederson in the 37th minute, which proved to be the catalyst for a 5-0 thrashing – the first time City have scored five goals against the Reds since 1937.
The result saw City move to the top of the table and they went on to win their following 16 league fixtures before their 18-game streak finally ended with a draw at Crystal Palace on New Year’s Eve.
Will Liverpool be the ones to finally defeat City in the Premier League this season? Ahead of the blockbuster clash at Anfield – live on Sky Sports on Sunday – we evaluate how Klopp achieved early dominance over Pep Guardiola’s side before the boys in blue made their numerical advantage count…
City started with a 3-5-2 formation, although Danilo ended up playing in a more advanced role alongside holding midfielder Fernandinho, while Liverpool lined up in their favoured 4-3-3, which is now the formation of choice at City, too.
Liverpool almost matched City for attacking impetus during the first half, with Salah, Mane, Roberto Firmino and Georginio Wijnaldum average position falling in the opposition’s half, where they targeted Nicolas Otamendi, who had started on the left of City’s back three.
For City, only four outfield players’ average positions were in their own half during that opening 45 minutes – and pacey pair Salah and Mane attempted to exploit City’s high line and the swathes of space down the flanks.
Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson stationed himself just ahead of Emre Can as they attempted to contain David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and a deeper-than-usual Sergio Aguero.
PASSING AND POSSESSION
Liverpool enjoyed 40 per cent possession during the first half, primarily by recording an above-average 183 passes against Guardiola’s side – restricting their opponents to a below-average 274 – and surpassed City for passes into the final third.
For context, only two teams have completed a full 90 minutes with more possession against City this term: Tottenham in December (47 per cent) and Arsenal in November (42 per cent) – with Spurs also restricting City to a season-low 253 passes at the break.
Liverpool’s passing stats after the first interval, despite being down to 10 men, have only been rivalled by Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham so far this season.
One of the most notable differences between the two sides in the first half was Liverpool’s tendency to dribble, completing seven to City’s one and firing four crosses to City’s two as they attempted to break quickly and directly.
The Reds matched the league leaders with seven attempts on goal – although five of those came from outside the box.
Perhaps most importantly, the Reds mustered 10 touches in City’s box during the first 45 minutes – no team has managed more against Guardiola’s side before the first interval in the Premier League this season.
Liverpool recorded more shots at City’s goal than any other team has managed in the first half of a league game this season, while only Everton created more chances during their 1-1 draw against a 10-man City in August.
Both teams were evenly matched for defensive stats, winning 22 duels, nine tackles and three headed clearances – with Liverpool’s eight interceptions edging City’s six.
Guardiola’s men recorded superior aerial stats and blocks – although new signing Virgil van Dijk, who is set to make his league debut on Sunday after a £75m move from Southampton, will help bolster these areas.
Sky Sports pundit Tony Gale believes Liverpool’s heavy defeat last time around would have landed a psychological blow but anticipates Klopp’s side to “press Manchester City like they have never been pressed” on Sunday.
“It will be high-octane stuff and if anyone is going to do it [beat City], it will be Liverpool. There have been signs that City, particularly the centre-backs – not so much John Stones but Otamendi or Mangala – you can press certain players and nick the ball off them.
“That will be Liverpool’s ploy and they will try and play this game at 100 miles per hour and at the same time have that composure to go on and create chances themselves.”
The stats suggest Liverpool can retain possession, create chances and hit the target against the runaway league leaders – and if they can keep 11 men on the field they could be the side to end City’s undefeated run.
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