05 April 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City

Previous Match Infographics: Crystal Palace (a), Watford (h), United (a), Porto (h), Newcastle (h), West Ham (h), Porto (a), Southampton (a), Tottenham (h), Huddersfield (a), Swansea (a), Manchester City (h), Everton (h), Burnley (a), Leicester (a), Swansea (h), Arsenal (a), Bournemouth (a), West Brom (h), Everton (h), Spartak Moscow (h), Brighton (a), Stoke (a), Chelsea (h), Sevilla (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Maribor (h), Huddersfield (h), Tottenham (a), Maribor (a), United (h), Newcastle (a), Spartak Moscow (a), Leicester (a), Burnley (h), Sevilla (h), Manchester City (a), Arsenal (h), Hoffenheim (h), Crystal Palace (h), Hoffenheim (a), Watford (a)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 

(Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)

Liverpool were more confident. That's what that noise at Anfield can do. Yes, European nights still count when they happen against English clubs. Sure, City looked the part for the first ten minutes, but then one giveaway and one counter-attack and Mohamed Salah stuck the ball in the net for the 38th time this season and uh oh not again not like three months ago.

Liverpool were more composed. Liverpool put shots on-target, Manchester City put none – for the first time in a league or European match in more than seven years. Liverpool scored in the 12th-minute on a counter-attack, as Firmino keeps at it when Ederson denies his first effort and Walker can't clear, and Salah stays calm and blasts the ball into the net with little time or space. Two minutes later, a Manchester City counter-attack: Sané carries the ball something like sixty yards. He's got options left and right. He screws a shot wide from just outside the box. That'd be Manchester City's best chance of the match. And while we're on the subject of composure – all three of Liverpool's goals featured Manchester City players playing the ball to a Liverpool player. Which is also something we saw when these sides met at Anfield three months ago.

Liverpool were more ruthless. As in the last meeting, Liverpool took chances they don't always get and don't always take, no matter how free-scoring this side is. Salah and Mané's goals yesterday were Liverpool's only clear-cut chances in the two meetings at Anfield, and both saw shots saved or blocked but Liverpool first to the rebound to finish the move. Depending on whose formula we're using, Liverpool's Expected Goals in the last two matches against City at Anfield was somewhere between 2.8 and 3.3 xG. Liverpool scored seven goals.

And Liverpool were more familiar. Liverpool played Liverpool's game, with the players we know in the formation we know, to almost the best of their abilities. Fervent pressing from the opening whistle, three goals in transition in the first half-hour, then one of Liverpool's finest defensive performances under Klopp, something of a capstone for the improvement we've seen over the last few months.

Meanwhile, it seemed Guardiola all but out-thought himself. Sterling, left out due to previous failings against his former club, but for Gündogan on the right flank. Something closest to a 4-2-3-1 but with a central midfielder on the right and de Bruyne almost on the same level as Fernandinho as the deeper midfield line. I know Pep's got a resumé but that seems misguided. I mean, if you're worried about Sterling, play Bernardo Silva – you know, a player who's played in that role before. Or de Bruyne – get him closer to goal but with license to come inside where he wreaks his havoc. Not only did playing deeper put de Bruyne closer to Liverpool's press, but all that space for Oxlade-Chamberlain's torpedo strike? That's where a holding midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 would usually be. Except de Bruyne had followed the ball and neither Sané nor David Silva got close in time.

So. Okay. You've come into the game deciding that Sané v Alexander-Arnold is your best match-up to exploit and a center-back at left-back will be more likely to do the defense on Salah. To compensate for that left-back not getting forward at all and Sané not defending at all, you're gonna have both Silva and de Bruyne drift to the left in possession to create overloads and overlaps, with one necessarily deeper than the other. So Gündogan at right-wing makes a little more sense, as that player's gonna need to drift inside to add a body for when both Silva and de Bruyne are ideally doing things. Walker's gonna get forward anyway, and has both the pace and lungs to do so all game.

You know what. This has gotten way too complicated. You do X, so Y, so Z, so A, so B.

Except. You didn't think about Mohamed Salah continuing to do at least one Mohamed Salah thing regardless of who's defending him. You very much underestimated Alexander-Arnold – as we all did. You forgot that Andrew Robertson can run as much and as fast as Walker. And you set up a system which lessened de Bruyne's impact. Your best player. One shot from distance immediately blocked and one key pass from one of the league's best players means something probably went wrong here.

Play to your strengths. You're the runaway league leaders for heaven's sake. Put your best players in their best positions. Make the opposition worry about what you do rather than worry about what they're capable of doing. That's what Liverpool did. That's what City failed to do, at least in the first half, at least until three goals down.

And in the second half, Liverpool once again proved that, yes, every now and then, Liverpool can actually defend.

Of course, special mention goes out to Trent Alexander-Arnold. What a game the 19-year-old had. The video below highlights how the kid coped with City's predominant tactic of "where's Sané? pass to him now," but also features more than a few covering interceptions and forays forward. It is egregiously impressive.

But he had help from Andrew Robertson.

But both Lovren and van Dijk made the tackles, interceptions, clearances, and blocks they needed to make. But Karius was assured in making two cross claims under pressure, one in each half, and quick to get rid when Liverpool had a chance to break. But Henderson and Milner were there to cover in defense, the last line of pressing but also the first leg of deep shelling, the epitome of dirty work. And, yes, James Milner – James. Milner. – has now tied Neymar for the most assists in a Champions League campaign.

Almost 77% City possession in the second half but just eight shots, when down by three goals. Four off-target, four blocked, and the only ones in the Danger Zone were awkward set play headers.

This is why I wasn't mad with a first leg at Anfield. Start as you mean to continue. Do Liverpool. And it went beyond my wildest expectations.

But this sure ain't over yet. And but for two moments, it could have been even less over. I'm sure City fans are still furious with two offside calls – Salah marginally off but allowed to continue on Liverpool's opener, Sané marginally off and ruled off for City's "goal" in the 84th minute. 2-0 or 2-1 looks a lot better than 3-0.

Still. I am incredibly, undeniably biased, but those decisions, and Liverpool's fortune in rebounds in the first and third goals, and Oxlade-Chamberlain's unerring strike that balloons into the Kop 97 times out of 100 felt like getting what you deserve. Liverpool put themselves in the best place to win, Liverpool did the things necessary to win, Liverpool's players had the better individual performances, Liverpool had the better team performance.

They'll need to do it all over again next Tuesday.

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