18 March 2017

Liverpool at Manchester City 03.19.17

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (h) 12.31.16
3-0 Liverpool (h) 03.02.06
1-1 City aet (n; League Cup) 02.28.06
4-1 Liverpool (a) 11.21.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-1 Burnley (a); 3-1 Arsenal (h); 1-3 Leicester (a)
City: 1-3 Monaco (a); 2-0 Boro (a); 0-0 Stoke (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 12; Firmino 9; Lallana 7; Coutinho, Milner 6; Wijnaldum 5; Can, Origi 4; Lovren, Sturridge 2; Henderson, Matip 1
City: Agüero 12; Sterling 6; de Bruyne, Iheanacho, Nolito, Toure 4; Gündogan, Jesus, Sane 3; Silva 2; Clichy, Fernandinho, Kolarov, Zabaleta 1

Referee: Michael Oliver

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Klavan Milner
Lallana Can Wijnaldum
Mané Firmino Coutinho

So, these are the games that Liverpool get up for?

I can't help but remain perpetually concerned.

At least the injury and squad depth crisis is getting slightly better. Henderson and Sturridge remain absent – the former especially worrisome given his performance when these sides last met – but there's a reasonable chance Firmino is back, often so necessary in matches like these. Especially since Origi took a minor knock in training. Maybe Lovren will return too, having played for the under-23s earlier this week, but Klavan's done reasonably well in his absence.

And City haven't been great at home, relatively speaking, losing just once but drawing five with seven wins, compared to ten wins and four losses away. They've only played twice at home in the league since the start of February, held 0-0 by Stoke and a narrow 2-1 win over Swansea, but they also scored five against both Huddersfield and Monaco in cup competition.

And therein lies the Manchester City narrative. They're confusing. Sitting in third, a point ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand, they've underperformed this season. Tomorrow's probable XI is Caballero; Zabaleta, Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov; Fernandinho; Sterling, de Bruyne, Silva, Sane; Agüero. But Clichy, Sagna, Toure, Navas, Nolito, and Iheanacho are also options – in defense, in midfield, and in attack – with only Gündogan and Gabriel Jesus, both out injured.

Just look at that squad, especially that attack. That front five has more firepower than the second Death Star. And probably cost more. On their day, they're absolutely brilliant going forward: 3-1 over Barcelona or 4-0 at West Brom or 5-0 and 4-0 in two trips to West Ham within a month. Sterling and Sane's pace against Liverpool's full-backs is especially frightening, as is Agüero's freakish scoring ability. But there's also Everton 4-0 win over City or Leicester's 4-2 win over City or the aforementioned 0-0 against Stoke.

I'm both curious to see and terrified of City's reaction to going out of the Champions League. Those two legs against Monaco, losing on away goals, were perfectly Manchester City this season. A party up front and a party at the back. They went behind 1-2 at home in the first leg only to score four in the second half, but still allowed one more. Then again conceded two first-half goals early in the away leg at Monaco, got an away goal of their own to retake the aggregate advantage, and then awfully conceded late to go out.

To be fair, Monaco's attack is unconscionable, somehow top-scorers in the big five European leagues. But Monaco's goals demonstrate the multiple ways to attack Manchester City: a goalkeeper error playing out from the back, speed from Mbappe behind the backline, and a direct counter-attack in the first leg; a broken half-cleared set play, possession then low cross, and another set play in the second leg. They're error-prone, especially when pressed. They can be pressed and swarmed in their own half and can be undone with pace, which are very much ways that Liverpool like to attack. And then set plays. If this sounds familiar, it's because these are all ways that Liverpool concede too. Incidentally, Liverpool also haven't scored from a set play in the league since two against Sunderland on January 2.

But Liverpool's win against City on New Year's Eve was achieved differently, for both Liverpool and City, aside from City conceding yet another early goal. It was Liverpool's low in shots, passes, and possession this season. It was one of just two 1-0 Liverpool league wins this season. But Liverpool also held City to just nine shots, just two on-target, both from outside the box. Just two shots in total from inside the box, both off-target. Liverpool held City without a shot for the final 31 minutes in a match where City were desperately chasing an equalizer.

Liverpool won because of Wijnaldum's early goal, but Liverpool won because Liverpool defended. Arguably the best they've done since Klopp became manager.

And Liverpool do have an excellent record against City lately, regardless of each side's manager. They're kind of, pretty much, almost unbeaten in the last five meetings, with four Liverpool wins and an cup final defeat solely on spot kicks. City have won just three of the last 12 league meetings, albeit all on their own ground.

Tomorrow marks Liverpool's last match against one of its fellow Top 6 rivals. Liverpool's last chance to finish unbeaten against its peers. Liverpool haven't gone unbeaten against City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, and United since 1995-96, a season where Tottenham finished 8th, Chelsea 11th, and City 18th. And Liverpool finished third.

Liverpool are where they are, still clinging onto and chasing a top-four place, because of how they've done against their peers. But that won't make tomorrow any easier.

1 comment :

georger said...

Arsenal's result makes it somewhat of a free spin but City is still the one big matchup I never get really worried about. Those recent results are in part why. Nothing could possiblie go wrong.