Liverpool travel to the Etihad Thursday to face Manchester City in what’s arguably the most important League game in recent memory for the Reds.
Jürgen Klopp versus Pep Guardiola is always an intriguing prospect, and this time should be no different. We’ve already taken a look at the potential starting lineups for both sides — now LFC Transfer Room’s Chijioke Ochubili talks about the tactical “musts” should Klopp’s Reds hope to maintain or extend their lead at the top of the table.
Pressing the space and positional play
Manchester City are a joy to watch with the ball but as of late, they’ve been poor without it or when they lose possession.
Liverpool will need to defend from the front, as City have found it hard to handle teams who press high up the pitch.
With each pressing trap, however, players need to position themselves in the right spaces to avoid City easily breaking the lines.
As we’ve seen in the past, Liverpool can exploit City’s almost stubborn tendency to play out of the back.
Winning second balls
In games against Leicester and Crystal Palace, City conceded a goal each as a result of poor reaction to second balls.
Andros Townsend’s wonder goal, while extremely unlikely, was the result of City failing to deal with a second ball. Ricardo Pereira’s late winner for the Foxes came in the second phase of a Leicester corner after a poor headed clearance.
Liverpool need to win as many second balls as possible and keep the City back line under pressure.
Target the makeshift left-back
Whoever starts at left-back for City must be put through the ringer.
Benjamin Mendy is out injured while Fabian Delph is suspended, meaning Guardiola has zero cover on that flank — Liverpool can make this the hosts’ undoing.
The Spaniard has to make a huge decision in selecting either Danilo or Oleksandr Zinchenko.
The logical choice is Danilo, as he’s right footed — which is key to marking the left-footed Salah — and is an actual full-back. Zinchenko has seen more game time this season, however, with the Ukranian playing nearly double the minutes in all competitions.
Liverpool need to take full advantage of this and pressure whoever ends up on that left flank. The more pressure they apply, the more assistance will be required from Fernandinho to cover the cracks. This, in turn, leaves spaces at the heart of City’s midfield to exploit.
Game management and control
Against Tottenham in September, Liverpool turned in a masterclass in terms of controlled in the game out of possession. Spurs totally dominated the possession and passing stats, but the score ended 2-1 to the Reds, with a stoppage time goal from Erik Lamela the only breakthrough. Liverpool managed the game in such a way that they made Spurs look dominant on the stat sheet but in reality, Liverpool could have scored another several goals.
Liverpool knew when to attack and when to defend. They were solid at the back and creative on the counter. They allowed Spurs have the majority of the ball but looked more likely to score when they took possession themselves, throwing 10 shots on target to Spurs’ 3.
City, at home especially, will expect to have the majority of the possession. Liverpool need to replicate the same setup they deployed against Spurs, controlling the spaces in which City can play with the ball and exploiting the spaces left behind when they win it back.
Pick on Fernandinho
Two of City’s three recent losses came without the Brazilian midfielder in the lineup. While he passed fit to play at Southampton and will likely be part of the lineup Thursday, Fernandinho is neither fully fit nor fully sharp.
Liverpool need to make the Brazilian uncomfortable, make him speed up his thought process, and force him into rash tackles, maybe even an early yellow card.
City can’t afford to lose points, hence they need him to be effective in protecting the back five without a yellow.
Fernandinho has been a consistent target for the Liverpool press in games past, and the Reds should look to heap the pressure on him from minute one.
Test Ederson’s decision-making
Ederson is known for being cool on the ball but has proven quite rash when coming off his line. He has given away two penalties as a result of poor decision-making in 1-v-1 situations.
Liverpool will have to exploit this with through balls to Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah and look to test his judgment whenever possible.
Agüero at the Etihad
Sergio Aguero has scored against Liverpool in every league match he has played against them at the Etihad since 2011. Liverpool simply have to shut him down, especially as he appears to be back to his best after a brief injury layoff.
Protect the full-backs
If one of Trent Alexander-Arnold or Andrew Robertson bombs forward, he needs cover. City are ruthless from the wing especially when the opposition full backs are caught out of position.
Liverpool need to have one of Henderson or Fabinho or whoever starts in midfield, to cover the space for which ever wing back that is advanced. This will maintain the defensive shape and prevent constantly being caught out on the counter.
Be wary of the Silvas
David Silva (6g, 2a) and Bernardo Silva (5g, 5a) have provided adequate cover in the absence of the injured Kevin De Bruyne.
Bernardo Silva is a man in form for City, with a goal and 2 assists in his last 3 games.
The midfield will need to make sure the two Silvas don’t have an easy ride in midfield, as both are more than capable of unlocking any defense. Both are bound to get on the ball plenty, so it’s down to Liverpool’s defensive structure to dictate where they can get it and what their options are.
Force Ederson to go long
City are excellent at building play from the back but sometimes struggle to go direct given their lack of height up front.
The Liverpool front three need to force Ederson to hurriedly go long and focus on taking away options to feet for attacking players.
The more hurried Ederson is in passing the ball, the more likely he’ll be forced into making errors from the back.
Don’t Let City Score First
If City open the scoring, it could be a long day in the office for Liverpool.
While the Reds were able to withstand an early onslaught in last season’s Champions League second leg at the Etihad, it still made for a very nervy opening half.
Both sides possess the pace and dynamism to exploit the spaces left in the opposition — if City gain that early lead and Liverpool are forced to attack, it leaves the visitors far more exposed against a ruthless City side.
Similarly, if the Reds can open up an early lead and heap even more pressure on City to attack, they can exploit a template that has brought them a great deal of success in recent months, controlling space without the ball and utilizing their lightning quick counter off turnovers.