Advertisement

Can Liverpool succeed where everyone else has failed and beat Man City?

Can Liverpool succeed where everyone else has failed and beat Man City?
From ESPN - January 10, 2018

It is the dilemma that has confronted every Premier League manager: How do you stop the seemingly unstoppable?

Manchester City are unbeaten in 33 games over almost nine months against domestic opponents. They have dropped points against only two teams this season, and on one of those occasions, they played the majority of the match with 10 men. They have scored almost five times as many league goals as they have conceded and could be crowned champions in March.

English football's most unsolvable problem, stopping Man City, has brought a range of answers from the original to the derivative, the typical to the out-of-character, the partial successes to the outright failures, resulting in the damage-limitation exercises to the damaging defeats. The chances are that when it is his turn on Sunday, Jurgen Klopp will use the 4-3-3 formation that worked at Anfield last season and perhaps, but for Sadio Mane's first-half red card, might have succeeded at the Etihad Stadium.

September's game against City ended in a 5-0 defeat for Liverpool after Klopp changed to a 3-5-1 formation and strangely substituted Mohamed Salah at the interval. The evidence of this season is that quick, skillful players are as likely to trouble City as anyone.

The common denominators among the better efforts involve counter-attacking, congesting the midfield with defensive-minded, tactically disciplined players and focusing on set-pieces that, in the span of eight days, brought Huddersfield and West Ham goals and almost produced another for Southampton. The more obdurate opponents have combined defensive resolve with some attacking intent: Bristol City, who defended in two banks of four and broke with pace in Tuesday's EFL Cup semifinal, are a case in point. They did not just aim to frustrate.

Many of the worst efforts -- Watford, when losing 6-0, Stoke, when going down 7-2, and Manchester United when flattered by a 2-1 scoreline after fielding four attack-minded players but with two of them appearing auxiliary full-backs as they struggled to get attacking possession -- involved using the division's default formation in recent years, a 4-2-3-1.

Klopp might note that the one side to hold an 11-man City in the league, Crystal Palace, did so using the 4-3-3. Roy Hodgson's side secured a stalemate and even came closest to winning after he swapped Wilfried Zaha to the right flank to get him running at Danilo. United threatened to have similar joy if they could have shuttled the ball over to Anthony Martial so he could attack Fabian Delph. Yet if there is a theory that City's left-backs are a weak link, especially in the absence of the injured Benjamin Mendy, few have managed to expose them.

Palace also prospered by using Christian Benteke as a target man and bypassing City's pressing with direct balls. Hodgson was bolder than many of his counterparts in his own pressing game. Bristol City (who scored as an indirect result of closing down Eliaquim Mangala), Palace, Liverpool, Burnley (who performed better than 3-0 and 4-1 scorelines indicate) and Tottenham tried to close down City's defenders and stop attacks at their source. Others have retreated immediately and sat deep, though none as far as Newcastle with their blanket defence.

Advertisement

Continue reading at ESPN »