31 December 2016

Liverpool 1-0 Manchester City

Wijnaldum 8'

One good Liverpool attacking move, a flowing counter in the eighth minute, Lallana's left-footed cross and Wijnaldum's vicious header.

Then, 86 minutes of defense and graft and sweat and was there blood? There might have been blood. It felt like there should have been blood.

14 total shots between two of the division's top scorers. Liverpool have taken more than 14 shots by themselves in 13 of the 19 league games this season. Just three on-target. Just one from inside the box: Wijnaldum's winner.

Just 14 shots and three shots on-target and one goal between two sides prone to hilarious defensive errors, who both defended excellently. It's just that one side defended better than the other, despite having to do a lot more of it.

And so we end 2016 with the first time that Liverpool's won a league match at Anfield by a 1-0 margin.

This has been a strange year.

The plan was evident when Liverpool's line-up was announced. Emre Can in for Origi, Firmino central and Lallana on the left. Liverpool would press, compress, defend, and counter-attack. Liverpool did the first three brilliantly, and the fourth well enough because Liverpool did it once.

After Wijnaldum scored, it was always going to be a matter of defense first and foremost, then counter-attacking if possible. After Wijnaldum scored, Liverpool were one pass away on every counter-attack. And there weren't that many counter-attacks.

But the entire side defended, as well as possible, from the front three's work rate to the midfield's positioning to the full-backs marking tightly to last ditch tackles, headers, and clearances from the center-backs.

After such nullification in the first half, you had to expect a response from Manchester City. Their players are too good, their manager's too clever. And switching Silva and de Bruyne looked to be the correct response, the Spaniard happier to drop into deeper positions, forcing Henderson – evidently struggling with his still-lingering heel injury – to chase, creating more space for others just outside the final third.

Agüero puts City's first shot on-target with an easily held drive from distance. Kolarov does similar five minutes later. Silva drags a shot just wide, Sterling's no-angle sprawling back post volley hits the side-netting. It feels like it's coming, and we're all starting to freak out a little bit, and our cardiologists are seeing dollar signs. And Liverpool bent. But Liverpool didn't break.

And those 15 minutes after halftime were all Manchester City got. Down 0-1, needing a goal to get back into the game, to keep pace with Liverpool let alone Chelsea, Manchester City failed to take a single shot after the 59th minute. Despite maintained, near-permanent possession for another 20 or so minutes. Despite four corners in the space of ten minutes. Despite Henderson needing to go off with that heel injury, with Origi as a replacement and Can now the deepest midfielder.

Liverpool, the bench still too threadbare, made just the one substitution until the 90th minute, the only other viable option an unneeded striker. The side was clearly spent, running on fumes. You'd expect that City should have been able to take advantage. But Klavan and Lovren feasted upon every City ball into the box. Milner utterly silenced Sterling. Even on fumes, Wijnaldum, Mané, Firmino, and Lallana kept running, with Origi's freshness at least an outlet, the necessary mix of willingness, pace, and strength.

And after City ran against a brick wall time and time again for 35 minutes, Liverpool spent the final minutes of the half playing keep away, whether passing across the back or relying on Origi to hold it in the corner. It was an absolute masterclass in seeing out a game. Even though we've seen it before – see: 1-1 at Dortmund, among a few others – it still seemed very not Liverpool. Very "uh oh, Happy learned how to putt."

City ended up with nine shots, but none after the hour. Just two inside the box: Kolarov's mishit volley which I still maintain was an attempted cross in the 39th minute and the aforementioned Sterling volley into the side-netting. None were in the Danger Zone. This was Liverpool's defense at its absolute best under Jürgen Klopp, even if the attack may have suffered for it. Good managers know the balance of their side, and set them up accordingly. And good managers succeed like Jürgen Klopp succeeded today.

And the result certainly didn't suffer for it. Liverpool did what Liverpool had to do. Liverpool retained its second-place spot into the new year, Liverpool won when everyone else near them in the table also won (except City, obviously), Liverpool remain within spitting distance of a Chelsea that should be out of sight after 13 straight wins.

This is how you end a calendar year. On a high, leaving us wanting more. Roll on, 2017.


lfc10 said...

What a mad mad end to the year and better to come this 2017 :)

Thanks for the concerted effort of the team and the Liverpool faithfuls like yourself.
Enjoy the year!

criynwa said...

great write up, Nate. keep up the good work!