- The buildup for this match revolved around Manchester City’s struggles with Liverpool last season, losing 4-3 in the league and getting knocked out in the quarterfinals of the Champions League 5-1. Not only in the score lines, but it was the manner in which Jurgen Klopp’s press suffocated and flustered Pep Guardiola’s careful passing sequences with goal scoring blitzes was equally dramatic. Through Manchester City’s record breaking season, the one puzzle they never solved was Liverpool’s press
- Although the tactical explanations of why City struggled so badly against Liverpool’s press seem too simplistic. While we can see how the front three of Firmino, Salah and Mane squeezed space and disrupted the buildup between John Stones, Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho, there were softer factors such as Liverpool’s momentum and growing energy backed by the home support that made moments appear even more dominant.
- In the buildup, Klopp named Guardiola as the best manager in the world despite having beaten him eight times in 14 matches. Guardiola, tongue firmly in cheek, congratulated all analysts who concluded that Liverpool had figured out his side. He then said that City played well in that first leg of the Champions League quarter finals - outside of giving up three goals.
- Liverpool are coming off as difficult a three week period any team has had in recent memory, including beating PSG and Tottenham in the same week, a loss and a draw to Chelsea in the same week, and most recently getting outplayed by Napoli and losing 1-0.
- Both Liverpool and City come into this match on 19 points, each having given up just three goals in seven matches.
- Klopp sprung an early surprise in reintroducing Dejan Lovren into the starting lineup, moving Joe Gomez to right back and leaving Trent Alexander-Arnold on the bench. It seems baffling for three specific reasons dealing with each individual player. Lovren has previously been blown out in big matches, a la Tottenham last season. Gomez has been excellent in partnering van Dijk in center back. And Alexander-Arnold’s service from right back has added another attacking angle for Liverpool.
- As the pre-game commentary notes, Aguero has yet to score at Anfield and the last time City won at Anfield was in 2003.
- Liverpool’s press wins the ball two minutes into the match with Guardiola already frustrated. Salah, Firmino, and Jordan Henderson look especially active putting City under pressure. Wijnaldum is playing further up the field in possession with Gomez, Lovren, van Dijk and Henderson forming a diamond in the build up phase.
- Kyle Walker versus Andy Robertson is track meet on the Liverpool’s left wing.
- The “Bernardo Silva is the Best Playmaker in the World” update: he’s yet to get into the match outside of an early yellow, with David Silva taking up the attacking position further up the field.
- The match changed just before the 20th minute with Liverpool unable to capitalize off their high pressure and City finally taking command of the tempo through possession.
- The ever dependable James Milner leaves the match with an injury, with Naby Keita taking his place. On the topic of Liverpool midfielders, Henderson has been very solid in slotting into the middle of the three, leading the press and spraying passes around as the first half comes to a close with very little chances from either side.
- Mahrez flashes a chance after a quick exchange early in the second half. This match is firmly in City’s tempo. Bernardo Silva, meanwhile, is dropping back alongside Fernandinho to break Liverpool’s press
- Gabriel Jesus comes on for Aguero, who faded from this match after early activity.
- Salah had a half chance that he may have buried last season, but alas, the chorus of his struggles grows louder.
- Both sides reinforced their attack with subs Daniel Sturridge and Leroy Sane coming on for the final 20 minutes.
- City have been attacking the right center back Lovren in their left half space all match long with underlaps and diagonal passes. And although it was van Dijk who gave up the penalty, he was covering for an out of position Lovren.
- Mahrez absolutely blasted that penalty kick.
- It’s fascinating how despite the all the tactics, pressing and previews, it’s disconnected, individual moments that change the entire narrative of a match. There were questions of why Mahrez even took the penalty in the first place, with Jesus lined up and ready. But with footage that Guardiola ordered Mahrez to take the penalty - and Jesus’ amused reaction as if he knew what the result would be - Guardiola took the heat off Mahrez with the winger a victim of Guardiola’s overthinking.
- With the match ending at 0-0, it was appropriate that there would be no goals considering last season’s excitement. This clash was more of a denouement than an exclamation point heading into the international break.
- Going back to narratives, perhaps the post-match analysis would have focused on Klopp’s decision to start Lovren. But we again focus back to the moments leading up to the penalty kick. The footage of Benjamin Mendy sprinting onto the field pointing at Mahrez will be one of the moments of the season, with Guardiola apologizing to Jesus after the match for taking the ball off his foot.
- An addendum to the “Bernardo Silva is the Best Playmaker in the World” watch: his role playing deeper in midfield next to Fernandinho changed Liverpool’s pressing equation and gave City control of the match. Although he did not display any trademark, defense splitting passes, his ability to pick up the ball and break through Liverpool’s press and midfield into his attacking third showcased his versatility. That ability to control a match from any third of the field adds a different spin to his playmaking role.
- After seven grueling matches in three weeks, all Klopp could ask for was a break for his players.
- And heading into the international break, Manchester City remain on top through goal difference with Chelsea jumping into second place. Liverpool’s schedule becomes much more straightforward in the league with upcoming matches against Huddersfield and Cardiff City.
Premier League Match Abstract: Liverpool 0, Manchester City 0