Manchester City vs Liverpool: Tactical Preview

Back from the international break with a bang

It’s 1st vs 2nd when the Premier League resumes as Manchester City welcomes Liverpool to the Etihad. With just a point between the two sides, it’s already a six-point showdown. Liverpool will be disappointed with the timing of the international break. City’s unusually chaotic 4-4 draw with Chelsea left them ripe for the picking. However, Jurgen Klopp and his staff have now had plenty of time to review that game and create a game plan to exploit City’s vulnerabilities.

So what can we expect?

READ MORE: What Is Playing Out From The Back? by Harry McMullen
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TEAM SHEETS

MANCHESTER CITY

Despite a series of improbably timed injuries, Pep Guardiola’s squad will likely be near full strength. They’ll still be without long-term absences Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones, but the likes of Ederson, Nathan Ake, Mateo Kovacic, and Erling Haaland should, miraculously, be medically cleared in time for the lunchtime kickoff.

ASTV Shorts: It’s Still Early

City was cut through repeatedly by Chelsea’s counterattack. Front-footed defending by Josko Gvardiol left gaps in the backline for the Blues’ wingers to run into. For games that require more control in the center of the pitch, Guardiola typically uses Kovacic to partner with Rodri in midfield. The Croatian’s superb dribbling ability allows City to retain possession under pressure.

Bernardo Silva will therefore likely take the right wing position. Jack Grealish should start on the left. The emerging and electric Jeremy Doku could be a dangerous weapon off the bench.

LIVERPOOL

The visitors meanwhile expect to have Curtis Jones back from injury and Alexis Mac Allister returning from suspension. The latest injury setback for Ibrahima Konate means Joel Matip will almost certainly keep his place at the back. The choice between Joe Gomez and Kostas Tsimikas on the left represents a choice between attacking threat and defensive security.

The role of Trent Alexander-Arnold in this game will be interesting. The vice-captain has been used in a hybrid right-back/midfield role with some success. But the system can leave Liverpool vulnerable to counterattacks and has been exploited regularly. Alexander-Arnold played excellently as a traditional full-back in the 3-0 win over Brentford. Nevertheless, he played that same role in a 4-1 defeat in this fixture last season. Who Klopp chooses and how he deploys them will be critical.

TACTICAL BATTLE: Can City Rebound?

There’s a reason both of these sides have been called the best in the world in recent years. The hosts are led by Pep Guardiola, one of the most innovative attacking coaches of all time. Over time, he’s adopted an elite pressing approach out of possession too.

The Reds meanwhile have Jurgen Klopp, one of the pioneers of the modern press. His “Liverpool 2.0” also has incredible quality on the ball, as well as a lethal goalscoring unit.

Both teams therefore will attempt to dominate the ball and will employ a tenacious press to try and reclaim it from their opponent. As we saw against Chelsea, this can lead to a transition-heavy affair. The game could therefore be decided by each team’s rest defense.

READ MORE: What Is Rest Defense? by Harry McMullen

As we’ve previously discussed, rest defense is the shape that the defensive unit takes up when their team is attacking. This means that, if the ball is lost and the team now has to defend, the defensive unit is already in the correct position.

This is why players like Grealish are so important for Guardiola. By holding up the ball, he gives the rest of the team plenty of time to get into the correct shape. This means that City can commit numbers forward to play around the opposition’s defense. All the while, they still have the defensive structure in place to stop potential counterattacks. It’s notable that in the Chelsea game, which City failed to control, Jeremy Doku started in Grealish’s place.

BETTER THAN THE REST

In addition to being pass masters, City also has the ability to attack more directly thanks to the athleticism of Erling Haaland. We saw this in the third goal against Chelsea. Haaland dropped into midfield to receive a long ball…

…and after evading Moises Caicedo, he could tee up a quick break that he ultimately finished himself.

Liverpool, however, are also more than capable of quickly turning defense into attack. During their 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest, Alexis Mac Allister made an excellent challenge before immediately looking forward. The red arrows were already flying into space.

We can see from this angle that Forest’s rest defense is poor. As soon as the ball was won, Liverpool was already attacking with numbers, 3v2.

Mac Allister picked out Mohamed Salah…

…who found Darwin Nunez, and his shot was ultimately turned home by Diogo Jota.

With both teams boasting quick and clinical attackers, the threat of quick breaks is immense. The team that has the best rest defense will be best-equipped to deal with these. Being on guard in this manner could prove decisive.

Make sure to tune into American Scouser’s live pre- and post-match coverage streaming on YouTube, X (formerly Twitter), and Facebook.

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