Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City [League Cup] (n), Augsburg (h), Augsburg (a), Aston Villa (a), Sunderland (h), Leicester (a), Stoke [League Cup] (h), Norwich (a), Manchester Utd (h), Arsenal (h), Stoke [League Cup] (a), West Ham (a), Sunderland (a), Leicester (h), Watford (a), West Brom (h), Sion (a), Newcastle (a), Swansea (h), Bordeaux (h), City (a), Crystal Palace (h), Rubin Kazan (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Rubin Kazan (h), Tottenham (a), Everton (a), FC Sion (h), Aston Villa (h), Norwich (h), Bordeaux (a), Manchester United (a), West Ham (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (h), Stoke (a)
As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.
(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)
I'm not quite sure why Manchester City abandoned what worked so well on Sunday.
Don't get me wrong; Liverpool played much better – in every area, in every phase – than they did in the League Cup Final. Defended better, pressed better, and, most importantly – what defines every Liverpool match (and every match) – took their chances.
Let's play a quick game. It's called "Where's Otamendi Going?"
Nicolas, why are you tracking Firmino that deep and that wide?
"Uh oh, time to retreat straight backwards even though it's away from both ball and goal!"
City's two-man midfield certainly didn't help, Fernandinho and Fernando completely vacating the space in front of the final third, leaving Lallana acres upon acres of space to run into. Lallana still needed to hit a perfect shot from 30+ yards, and needed Hart to be both out of position and to dive late.
City's midfield and defense – more than just Otamendi – created these problems for themselves, and certainly deviated from the plan which stifled Liverpool on Sunday, but there's a still more than a bit of fluke involved here. The next goal's even more Otamendi fun.
Yep, we've decided to track a Liverpool attacker all the way to the flank again. It worked so well last time.
One back heel later, with City's midfield again too high up the pitch to help, and Kompany has to try to mark two players, caught between Origi and Milner, unable to cut out Firmino's pass, which Milner both takes and finishes beautifully.
This game is, admittedly, a bit unfair on poor Nicolas. City's midfield, without Toure and attempting to both press and play higher up the pitch, certainly didn't help. Without Toure, without Delph, and not wanting to put either of the two youth players on the bench, City simply didn't have options in midfield; when needing to change the game in the second half, Pellegrini withdrew one of the two available midfielders for another attacker, dropping Silva into midfield. Liverpool scored the game-killing third – through the middle of the pitch – less than two minutes later.
Liverpool's front four adjusted and played accordingly: Origi stretching play along with Firmino, Milner, and Lallana constantly interchanging repeatedly pulled City players out of position. But at Wembley, City didn't let themselves get pulled out of position. City's midfield stayed deep, City's back four stayed in an almost-constant line in front of the 18-yard box.
I've no idea why they didn't do similar yesterday. So many teams have succeeded against Liverpool by doing similar.
And Manchester City reaped zero rewards in attack for the change in play. City's four shots were the joint-fewest that any opponent has had against Liverpool in the league. The other was West Brom, who, I'm sure you remember, missed wildly with two open play shots and scored from two set play shots. Liverpool have held opponents to six shots in four matches: Newcastle (two goals, loss), Watford (three goals, loss), Norwich (four goals, win), and Villa (lol Villa).
Clearly, few shots doesn't equal "Liverpool win." Not with this side *glares at Liverpool's keeper, set play defense, defense in general*. But limiting shots certainly isn't a bad thing. And this was the first time that Liverpool have held this quality of opponent to that low. You have Agüero, Silva, Sterling, and Navas. I don't care how the midfield and defense play, or how the opposition plays. That's embarrassing. But that's also a huge credit to Liverpool. On Sunday, City took 20 shots (17 in 90 minutes). In November at the Etihad, City took 11 shots. Over the first 26 league matches, City had averaged 17.4 shots per match.
Once again, less Liverpool possession equals a better Liverpool result. Liverpool still needs to take its chances, with moments of supreme individual quality on each goal: Lallana's finish for the first, the back-heel and Milner's first touch on the second, Lallana's dribble and timing of the pass for the third. Liverpool still need Lallana, Firmino, and Milner to play like that in attack, both with and without the ball; quality when in possession, pressing smartly and viciously when City have it. For all the complaints about his play, his consistency, and (sigh) his transfer fee, it's no coincidence that Liverpool press much more coherently and efficiently when Lallana's in the side. Even at his worst, he dramatically improves that phase of the game.
City seemed flat and listless after their win on Sunday, but Liverpool needed to respond. It'd have been easy for players to shirk back after that defeat, give into fatigue, and go through the motions. Flanagan's tackle in the first minute set the tone, while Toure and Emre Can also delivered supremely confident, quality performances, in addition to the front four.
But again, the result seems as much what the opponent does as what Liverpool does.
Come out against Liverpool at your own peril.