Guardiola channels his inner Roger Schmidt in a counter attacking massacre
Previous champions (Manchester city) and the current champions elect Liverpool FC faced off at the Etihad stadium in a game that was on the calendar as a title decider but, ended up deciding little as the title race ended last week. The game proved to be an interesting tactical battle which fundamentally changed after a penalty was awarded at the 23-minute mark. However, what was intriguing about this game is the tactical setup chosen by Pep. He changed his approach to a more counter-attacking high pressing style something you would probably more associate with Jurgen Klopp or in this case with the German coach Roger Schmidt formerly of RB Salzburg, Bayer Leverkusen and now of PSV Eindhoven.
Liverpool’s line up:
Liverpool on paper stuck to their normal 433 system. However, in the recovery phase it looked more like a 4231 system. As the game progressed Liverpool’s formation started to resemble more a 442 diamond shape with Firmino and later Origi dropping between city’s defensive and midfield line.
Manchester city’s line-up:
Manchester city lined up in what appear on paper to be 433 formation. However, (and not particularly surprising) Pep opted to play a 442. This is in a similar vein to the system he set up to use against Manchester United in the first leg of the league cup and against real Madrid in the first leg of the champions league last 16.
Klopp in the past has had quite a bit of success against Manchester city, especially at home in the Premier league. In the last three seasons they have won two out of the three recent home encounters with the third being a draw. In fact, Manchester city have not won at Anfield since the takeover by Sheikh Mansour. However, Manchester city stadium has been a different story. Under Klopp Liverpool have only won twice at Manchester city’s home stadium. One of those occasions was against Man City before Pep arrived. The other was in the infamous champions league quarter-final second leg where Liverpool won 2-1 on the night and went through to the semi-finals.
Liverpool’s plan against Manchester city was simple. The aim was to win the ball as high as possible to counter straight onto Man City. Part of this required Liverpool’s usual pressing structure to be optimized to its peak to disrupt Man City’s build up play. As you will see below Liverpool attempted to do this through organised pressure which was relatively successful. Liverpool made several good regains of the ball in extremely dangerous areas around Manchester city’s goal. However, this did not lead to any goals for Liverpool.
Part of Liverpool strategy was to bypass Manchester city’s infamous pressing. Admittedly, Manchester city’s pressing game is not as good as Liverpool’s. Nonetheless it still one the strongest in the league (possibly the world) along with Liverpool’s. So, to bypass this pressure Klopp used a tactic that Pep Guardiola, used against Real Madrid. Liverpool would seek to attract Manchester city pressure. Then bypass it by using a chipped pass over the player applying the pressure.
In doing so Liverpool would hope that the ball landed in an area where they could then make direct runs on to goal. This can be seen below in the case of the left-hand side of Liverpool’s attack where Mane was chasing after balls in behind. The same applied on the right with Mohamed Salah.
Liverpool could then drive onto Manchester city’s back line and look to get shots off.
However, Liverpool had a second offensive strategy, which would take advantage of Man City’s compact defensive structure. As mentioned before the club struggled against Manchester City defensive structure in the game at Etihad last season. In that encounter, Pep Guardiola chose to play quite a defensive approach which saw Liverpool dominate possession. However, Pep did not sacrifice his desire to push his defence line higher up the pitch and maintain compact distances between the offensive line, midfield line and the defensive line. The same would be true this time round too with Man city pushing up the pitch in a compact 442.
Manchester city strategy:
Manchester city in the last two encounters with Liverpool in the league saw them win one game at home the other was a defeat at Anfield. What characterise the difference between these two performances was Manchester city’s approach. In the game at Etihad last season Manchester city were able to score 1st and then hold on and manage the game. After Liverpool equalized, man city was able to get a second goal on the break. This result changed the title race and put Man City back in the driving seat. However, this season in the game against Liverpool at Anfield - Man City conceded an early goal. Which meant they could not play their more defensive style, which they had used last year to great success. It was therefore not surprising that Liverpool rolled out 3-1 winners on that day.
Bearing this in mind, Pep decided to take a different approach in this game. For the record, I am not suggesting he got his inspiration directly from Roger Schmidt. However, he decided to follow terribly similar game plan to that was used quite effectively against his own Bayern Munich side.
As I explained, you will see similarities between the approaches. Schmidt is very well known for playing exceptionally high pressing football. Remarkably like Jurgen Klopp Dortmund side. Still, there are key differences, one was the intensity of the press. Also, Schmidt sides tended to rack up a lot of shots on goal. This is because they sought to win the ball exceptionally fast. They would then break with as many men forward as they could to overload the opposition and get a chance on goal - see below for an example.
Pep emulated this approach in this game. Like Schmidt he set his team up to defend in a 4222/442 high block.
Like Schmitt team he also set up as some specific pressing traps to try and force mistakes from the Liverpool’s back line and try and get chances on goal.
With this in place Manchester city could seek to counterattack onto Liverpool. Upon winning the ball they would seek to score straight away in a similar style as seen in the clip from the RB Salzburg game against Bayern Munich.
Early on city was obsessed on making sure city blocked passing lanes to Trent and Robinson. When either was high man city aggressively stopped at balls getting to them.
What happened in the game?
Liverpool started off the better team looking to create some successful chances and where effective at winning the ball off City. One of the most interesting aspect is Liverpool’s pressing. They implemented some really affected pressing traps throughout this game. They made it exceedingly difficult for Man City to effectively play out from the back. As you see below in the following examples Liverpool setup with their standard pressing structures altered to fit Manchester city typical build-up patterns. Liverpool also has a level flexibility to adjust to the changes made by City to their style.
During the game Liverpool where incredibly happy to allow Manchester city centre backs to have the ball. Instead, they tended to press when the ball was passed into the midfield line or to any of Man city’s fullbacks.
Later, to help the build-up, Gundogan drop deep into the defensive line to make a back three. When this happened, Liverpool did not close him down instead they opted to remain in shape and block off the passing lanes.
Liverpool implemented their strategy of using long balls to bypass Manchester city pressure and were getting some limited success in getting through Manchester city’s line. They were also getting some joy from there high press and had a chance or two to create goal scoring opportunities.
Then the game changed at the 23rd minute when Stirling won a penalty for a foul from Gomez. This fundamentally changed the game, as up to that point Liverpool had been the more dominant side. In tactical terms they had been quite astute and were creating some good opportunities. However, after Man City went 1-0 up, the game fundamentally changed into Man City’s favour. This then allowed City to play counter-attacking football.
Man city attacking the half space:
A common theme of the early half of the game was Man City attacking Liverpool half space. See below clip.
Playing in the 442 allowed Kevin de Bruyne to drop deep (like a false 9). From this position he could receive the ball and play pinpoint passes into the half space for Stirling and Foden to run on to. With Jesus pinning back van Dijk and Gomez, this led to an overload and gave Manchester city their first goal from open play (the second goal of the game – see below).
The same happened for Foden’s goal. Foden drift into Liverpool half space that was left unprotected and got a shot off onto goal.
This is one the weaknesses of Liverpool. To attack, Liverpool’s full backs push up in possession. This is where Liverpool’s width come from and they have used it effectively to break down teams. However, when both fullback’s push-up it exposes, not only the wide areas, but also the half space for attackers to run into from wide areas. This can be exploited with two strikers splitting and attacking the half space from the central area as shown in the animation below.
Manchester city took a different approach by using Jesus to pin back the centre backs it allowed Kevin De Bruyne to drop deep and play balls for sterling and Foden to run on to on both sides. See animation below.
With a three-goal lead, Pep opted to play a more defensive counter-attack style in the second half. He was looking to nullify any attacks from Liverpool, while taking any opportunities in transition to get another goal.
Klopp made a change half time by taking off Joe Gomez (who conceded the penalty) and replaced him with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. He then moved Fabhino into the defensive line.
The story of the second half can be summarised as Liverpool attack, the attack breaks down and Man City counters, see example below.
This is also where Manchester city’s fourth goal came from. After losing the ball, Liverpool failed to recover in time as Manchester city counter-attacked ruthlessly and scored.
In the second half Liverpool lacked any attacking threat. They seemed to struggle to breakdown Man Citys very compact defence structure. Klopp had identified potential opportunities based on previous matches against Pep more defensive setup. By using long balls into the space behind the vertically compact defence of Man City, Liverpool could get in on city goal. However, this did not work as Man city did a good job at tracking the runs. Even when Mane did breakthrough Laporte and Garcia had the space covered.
Klopp bought off Firmino and brought on Origi - possibly with the intention of using him to pin back Laporte and Garcia therefore making it harder for them to track or mark anyone who is making runs in behind.
Manchester City put on an exceptional display of counter-attacking football. They were clinical and ruthless in the execution of their game plan and showed qualities more associated with teams such as Roger Schmidt teams, Simeone – Atletico Madrid or Josie Mourinho teams. However, the fact that Pep had to make such radical changes to Manchester city style shows how seriously he takes the threat from Liverpool. As he said in the post-match comments: “Liverpool is the most dangerous team he has ever been rivalled by”. Which should be taken as the highest form of complement.
Despite the victory Manchester city have lost a Premier league title and are likely to finish the season around the 80-point mark. Which is quite a significant drop-off in the results they have achieved in the last 2 years. Nonetheless, in this match they show their potential. That they could, pose a serious threat, next season, to Liverpool’s title. Any other team planning to win the premiership will need to be able to match City’s intensity and level of play else they don’t have much chance.
Liverpool first premiership title win and their 19th top-flight league title has finally come. In a way they have been extremely fortunate as the other potential title challengers have not come through such as Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham. Manchester city, this season., have been quite poor by their standards. As a result, Liverpool have won the title (as it stands) with 10 points less than they got at the end of last season and are holding a 20 point lead over Man city.
Next season, Liverpool will have to look at altering the squad potentially bringing in more possession-based players. Liverpool have been, at the time of writing, linked with Thiago from Bayern Munich. This could be a shrewd acquisition if the finances are right. However, I feel that Liverpool’s two priorities in the transfer window, to maintain their title challenge, will be a midfielder who can pick out a pass to breakthrough defensive lines. Secondly, a defender who can work with Virgil van Dijk and see Lovern leave the club. Admittedly Joe Gomez’s mistakes could be worked on and removed from this game. However a stronger, higher quality defender might just enhance Liverpool’s defensive qualities especially in games against teams such as Atletico Madrid’s and the Man Citys, who now fear Liverpool football and will play on the counter.
On a positive note Liverpool’s tactical plan was very sound. The ideas and concepts that were put into the match plan were executed. However, bad luck and the conceding of the penalty change the game. Klopp will be rightly very annoyed with the final score line. However, the performance started off relatively well and there were many situations in which Liverpool created opportunities, but they were not clinical enough with them.
Even though the score line is bad there is a lot of room for optimism going forward. With one or two enhancements to the squad Liverpool should be challenging for the Premier league title next season alongside the champions league and other domestic cups.
Software used: Klipdraw and Tactical pad.