Liverpool 4 – Manchester City 3: Match Review and Analysis

There was a chance that this game could have been haunted by the spectre of the players that weren’t there, rather than the ability of the lads who were. The sale of Philippe Coutinho left more than few Liverpool supporters scratching their heads, saying thing like ‘top teams don’t sell their best players midway through the season’. I’ve already written an in-depth piece about the Brazilian leaving, so I’m not going to go over the same ground again here. Sufficed to say, though, that those critical voices would’ve grown louder if we’d failed to create chances against Manchester City this afternoon. Then, hours before kick-off, news broke that Virgil van Dijk would miss the match through injury. Some expressed panic, believing for some reason that the defence that had only conceded four goal in the Premier League so far this season wouldn’t be able to keep Manchester City at bay.

Then, when the teams were released, the manager had dropped Simon Mignolet and replaced him with Loris Karius. Would he be ruing that decision come the full-time whistle? The Belgian isn’t good enough, we all know that. Perhaps the manager’s decided it’s time to find out whether his fellow countryman is. The signs haven’t been brilliant so far, but he also hasn’t had a run in the team since being settled in the country to see if he can get into the swing of things. There’s an argument that Jürgen Klopp might be wanting to test Karius before deciding whether or not to go out and buy another ‘keeper before the January transfer window shuts. I for one hope that he does. Yet by the same token, no side other than Manchester United have a genuinely brilliant goalkeeper in their side. Don’t believe me, go and watch the goals Arsenal conceded at Bournemouth and ask what Petr Cech was doing. So would the aftermath of the match involve conversations about what might have been, or what’s still to come?

Philippe Who?

When Liverpool agreed to sell Philippe Coutinho at the start of the January transfer window, many people wondered where the goals would come from. The Brazilian chose to leave the club and the chance to continue playing in the Champions League in order to complete his dream move to Barcelona, so how would the Reds cope without his creativity? Very well indeed, as it happens. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, so the rest of the season will tell us the most about whether or not we truly end up missing the Little Magician. Yet at the same time you don’t score four goals against the best team in the league if you don’t have the ability to create chances. Jürgen Klopp isn’t an idiot. Whether we agree with him or not doesn’t change the fact that he’ll have thought long and hard about whether or not to make the sale before giving it his go ahead.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain said in his post-match interview that the manager has been telling him to shoot more often and the former Arsenal man justified his manager’s faith in him after just nine minutes. It was also a hell of a way to win over any Liverpool fans who still remain skeptical about the midfielder’s ability. Gini Wijnaldum still has the ability to go missing occasionally, but the Dutchman was immense today and refused to allow City’s midfield to run the show. Then there’s the genius vision of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino. All three of them scored goals that involved vision, intelligence and incredible finishing. They might not have had any through balls to run on to but, in the end, they didn’t need them.

We Took The Game To City And It Paid Off

Too often teams have gone up against Manchester City and felt that the only sensible option that they had was to try and defend. Such is City’s wealth of talent in attack, they will create chances and put your defence under a huge amount of pressure. Yet the club’s biggest weakness is at the back. They’ve spent a fortune on their defenders and Pep Guardiola has moved through three goalkeepers in two seasons at the club. He’s not happy about what he’s got available to him, suggesting that it’s an area that he knows other clubs can target. The problem is, none do. I can’t blame managers for being defensive, with some clubs like Bournemouth coming close to getting something out of their match against them by doing just that. It’s not a tactic that is likely to pay off, however, because their forwards are simply too good and will almost always find a way through.

It’s obviously a lot easier for Liverpool to go on the front foot against City than it is for the likes of Stoke, West Brom or Everton. With the quality of players we have available to us, it’s actually the best way for us to play practically anyone. It also keeps the ball away from our defence that has, at times, performed less than favourably. Indeed, all three of Manchester City’s goals were eminently preventable from our point of view. Joe Gomez sold himself when he jumped in for the ball and allowed Sane to escape with it for the first, before Joel Matip failed to get a decent foot in and then Karius was beaten at his near post far too easily from the shot. Similar mistakes plagued us for the second, whilst Dejan Lovren completely missed his header for the third. The defence is actually much better than people have been willing to say this year, but it’s still vulnerable enough to mean that the best tactic involved putting City on the back foot and pressing them to death. It paid off, with the Reds ending their much-talked about unbeaten run.

James Milner’s Arrival Nearly Changed The Game

Often when we talk about substitutions changing the game it’s because they’ve been good ones. A player has come on and taken hold of the midfield, for example, or a striker has scored a match winning goal. Rarely do we acknowledge when a manager makes an incorrect change, unless it’s because the player taken off was doing well and we lacked them once they were no longer on the pitch. For me, though, James Milner’s arrival changed the game in a way that should be a cause of concern for the manager. The former City player shouldn’t be anywhere near the midfield in a match like that. I realise that it’s difficult for players to come in from the cold into a game moving at that pace, but that doesn’t change the fact that he looked as poor for us as Wayne Rooney has in the middle of the park for Everton. He’s now way past his best and nowhere near fast enough to make a difference in the top games.

Perhaps I’m just doing as Klopp said in his post-match interview with Sky Sports and ‘finding a hair in the soup’. The manager declared that we ‘need to find a way to judge our players in the moments they’re not so good and realise that they’re world-class’. I must admit, however, that I struggle to see the world-class nature in Milner unless the opposition is the likes of West Brom or Stoke. He’s supposed to be a calming influence and yet he gave away the free-kick right at the death that could so easily have caused us to drop two points that we’d earned. Given the departure of Coutinho, our midfield options are now looking thinner and thinner. The worry is that the manager might need to turn to Milner more and more in the remaining games of the campaign and that’s a concern for me. Given the links to Leon Goretzka, I’d be disappointed if Liverpool didn’t bring someone like him in to lift the load given how much we still have to play for.

The Reds Should Be Aiming For Second

Liverpool are the second-best team in the country. That might not be reflected in the Premier League table at this moment, but that’s only because of goal difference until Manchester United inevitably beat Stoke City tomorrow evening. Regardless, Liverpool are playing the most exciting football aside from the league leaders and are just as able to grind out a result when needed. We showed as much against Leicester City and Burnley before doing it again against Everton in the FA Cup. The dropped points by Chelsea and Arsenal this weekend, combined with the way both of those teams are playing at present, means that we’ve got a real chance to push ourselves clear of the Gunners and ask real questions of Antonio Conte’s team. We should be looking at a second-place finish as what we want from the season now, as well as making sure that City win every single point necessary to claim the title.

If we can finish this campaign, that so many thought we started poorly, in second place then it will set us up nicely for next season. We should also be hoping to add an FA Cup win to our list of achievements before May comes around. Both the manager and the club need that in order to get back to remembering what it feels like to win a trophy. There also needs to be a good push in the Champions League if we’re to persuade possible transfer targets to chose Liverpool over the likes of Bayern Munich, Manchester United and, indeed, City themselves. This was a result that proved we have what it takes to stand toe-to-toe with the best in the country and answered any questions they were able to pose. From 2-1 up we had them rocking, with the crowd doing a brilliant job of stopping them from re-gaining a foothold in the match. Both the team on the pitch and the people in the stands can be proud of the performance that was produced today. It was, all told, a massive three points.

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