Nor manager has defeated Pep Guardiola as much as Jürgen Klopp, although the balance is swinging the way of the Manchester City manager, with a defeat in nine meetings since the quarter-finals of the Champions League in April 2018. so it’s one of the big rivalries, a reunion. of two coaches who have done more than anyone to shape the tactical landscape of modern football. But how could they settle on Sunday and where is the game between Liverpool and their Premier League title rivals probably won and lost?
The role of Foden
Phil Foden was Manchester City’s key attacking presence in the 2-2 draw at Anfield, as he found space on City left over and over again. He scored first and it was his run and the half free cross that led to Kevin De Bruyne’s late equalizer. That, however, was against James Milner, who struggled to such an extent that he probably should have been sent off.
At the Etihad it could be different. For one thing, there is no guarantee that Foden will play on the left. That he was on the bench against Atlético Madrid suggested one or two things. At first, Guardiola thought that the game was going almost like this, with Atlético sitting at the bottom and frustrating the city: what strength to have, then, to be able to tire them out, dragging them here and there, before spreading the word. your most creative. asset against tired legs with 20 minutes remaining. Of course, in 90 seconds Foden identified and exploited a space to set De Bruyne up for the winner.
And according to him it had been kept cool by Liverpool; they are a better team than Atlético and there is a good argument that Sunday’s game will have a greater impact on the fate of a trophy than the first leg on Tuesday of a quarter-final of the Champions League. Foden will certainly play against Liverpool – but he could be used as the fake 9, the position occupied by Jack Grealish at Anfield.
To the right of Liverpool
Trent Alexander-Arnold missed the game against City at Anfield with a calf injury but is available on Sunday. No one in the Premier League has recorded more assists this season as Alexander-Arnold and his remarkable ability to cross were seen again against Benfica on Tuesday as his ball to Luis Diaz put him on second for Sadio Mané. What was striking was not only the pace and accuracy of the expedition, but that they came from a deep position, several feet from the flank; there was almost no margin for error. Almost no matter where he is on the field, Alexander-Arnold simply can’t be given time to cross.
How can the city prevent this? If they can press on effectively and dominate possession, that may be enough to limit Alexander-Arnold’s influence. But at Anfield they had 52% of the ball and even if it’s possible, maybe even likely, that figure will be higher at home, it’s hard to see that the city’s ball control is good enough that Alexander- Arnold is not a threat.
In both games last season – a 1-1 draw at the Etihad when Liverpool played an amazing 4-4-2 form with Mané and Diogo Jota as midfielders-cum-wingers, and a 4-1 win by City to Anfield. – Raheem Sterling was used on the left City, less for his diligence that he could accelerate in any space that Alexander-Arnold left in his forward halls.
That space is an inevitable fact of the way Alexander-Arnold plays, but it can be mitigated by the Liverpool press which, when working at its maximum, should deny the opponent time to measure the balls behind the defender. . When things go wrong, as they did at Real Madrid last season, Alexander-Arnold can look as if he is hopelessly out of position. But the problem is that his style of play, which gives Liverpool such power, is based on a functional and aggressive approach – which is probably the main reason Alexander-Arnold, for all his skills on the ball, it’s not Gareth Southgate’s favorite. choice for England.
If Guardiola chooses again to engage in what is actually a chicken game, Sterling seems the most likely option since he remains probably more reliable defensively than Grealish. If he preferred the more conservative option, Gabriel Jesus could be used effectively by Harry Alexander-Arnold while also offering a creative threat.
Fight on the hips
A decade ago, Guardiola had revolutionized football with his heavy football possession, and Klopp had just started the fight by conceiving a picture that won the ball faster and more aggressively than he had seen before. Both have subsequently changed their approach so Thiago Alcântara, a longtime Guardiola favorite, will likely be in Liverpool’s midfield, while City are more direct in transition than Guardiola’s Barcelona. But this remains a battle between the two major schools of modern football: those that prioritize maintaining possession and those that prioritize regaining possession.
One of the consequences of this process is that it feels more and more like the key battles are those between wide forwards and back-backs. In a competitive field, Mo Salah’s performance against City at Anfield this season was probably his biggest in a Liverpool shirt, with an extraordinary assist and a brilliant goal. He may not have been completely at his best in a short time, with no goals from the open game in his last eight games for Liverpool, but there is no doubt that he will start on the right and Klopp has had the benefit of could drive him out after an hour of Tuesday’s win at Benfica.
With Kyle Walker suspended, João Cancelo switched to the right in Lisbon, with Nathan Aké in the back on the left, but the Portuguese international will surely return to the left back. His double means he should be less susceptible to Salah cut infield than many defenders, but that hasn’t particularly helped Anfield. The extent to which Cancelo can move forward to operate as an assistant midfielder, which is one of the ways in which City tend to dominate possession, is likely to be key.
It’s a similar story in other full-back v wide forward battles. Andy Robertson has less assist than Salah this season, while Riyad Mahrez is City’s top scorer in the league. While Walker won’t be disturbed by the pace from Mané or Díaz, with Rúben Dias out, City could be vulnerable to a quick forward on the diagonal trying to take John Stones on the turn. The center is to gain control, but this is a game when the decisive moments probably come from the sides.