07 October 2018

Liverpool 0-0 Manchester City

You want to see two sides canceling each other out? That was two sides canceling each other out.

Okay, obviously no one wants to see two sides canceling each other out. It’s boring. That’s not to say this was a boring match, but it was a very conservative match, from two sides that are usually the opposite of conservative.

It’s both recognition of Liverpool and City’s respective threats but also the overload that’s come during the last few weeks, both sides playing twice a week since returning from the last international break, with players not yet at the capacity for that since the season’s still only just started.

We got basically a full-strength side from each, but with at least one crucial change. Gomez replaced Alexander-Arnold at right-back, taller and more defensive, and capable of long throws in the attacking zone, with Lovren coming in to partner van Dijk. City were more a 4-2-3-1 than the usual 4-3-3, with Bernardo Silva forming a double pivot with Fernandinho. Both managers kept their usually very attacking fullbacks restrained, especially City, making sure there were players back for long passes over the top, toward Salah and Mahrez/Sterling respectively.

And the changes seemed to work exactly as each manager hoped. Lovren was excellent, with more than a few last ditch tackles and blocks on both Agüero and Gabriel Jesus. Bernardo Silva was similarly influential for City, leading that side in tackles. None of the dangerous wide attackers – Salah, Mané, Mahrez, or Sterling – did much of anything. None were allowed to do much of anything.

Liverpool pressed well, avoiding City’s center backs but disrupting play as soon as City entered the midfield zone. Liverpool once again had to cope with an early midfield injury, with Keïta replacing Milner in the 29th minute.

So we got a lot of turnovers in the center of the pitch, an excellent tackle or interception, clearance, lather, rinse, repeat. Teams averaging 22 and 15 shots per match respectively combined for all of 13. Possession was basically equal, shot totals were basically equal, and xG would have been basically equal if not for Manchester City’s penalty, as Mahrez skied a spot kick after van Dijk fouled Sané in the 86th minute. That’d have been a hell of a way to lose after another commendable defensive performance, so I really appreciate pulling a Charlie Adam, Riyad.

It was frenetic at times, it was fun to watch every now and then, but it was mostly very much a stalemate, and purposefully so.

Even though 0-0 certainly isn’t a bad result, this is the first time this season that Liverpool’s gotten a worse result this season than in last season’s equivalent fixture. City will arguably be more aggrieved – their best performance at Anfield in years, better chances than Liverpool created, and that missed penalty as well as two other no-calls.

In isolation, it’s fine, this is fine. Life never comes in isolation. Liverpool are now four matches without a win, failing to score in two of those four and two goals from Sturridge in the other two. Liverpool followed up what was arguably the worst attacking performance since Klopp became manager with another match where Liverpool rarely if ever looked like scoring.

We’re now four matches without a goal from Salah, Firmino, or Mané. I’ll look later but I reckon it’s safe to assume that hasn’t happened often over the last couple of seasons.

That said, Liverpool are now through this period between international breaks unbeaten in the league, with eight points out of 12 from Tottenham (a), Southampton (h), Chelsea (a), and City (h). Liverpool are level on points with both City and Chelsea, behind both only on goal difference. Joint-top, even though we’ve yet to see Liverpool at its best this season.

We’re gonna need evidence soon, but that Liverpool are here now despite the play over the last few weeks still suggests better is on its way.

No comments :