Liverpool went into this game knowing that anything other than a win would mean that the ball for the top four court would be with Manchester United. Their win over Middlesbrough in the lunchtime kick-off meant that they were three points behind us with a game-in-hand. Arsenal’s fall from grace meant that they were five points behind us with the same thing on their side. It’s fair to say, then, that there was a degree of pressure on Jürgen Klopp and his charges before a ball was even kicked. Surely it wouldn’t matter, though, as our form against the rest of the Premier League’s top six has been excellent and this was the last match that fell into that category.
Think our run against the top 6 might come to an end today sadly. No shame in it though, what a run we’ve been on.
— Michael Lennon (@Soz_abar_me) March 19, 2017
What sort of game would we be faced with? Manchester City went into it on the back of an agonising defeat over two legs in the Champions League, so would they be feeling sorry for themselves or would they be looking to exact some revenge over us? Their attack is arguably the best in the league and our defence has to be up their with the weakest in the top half of the table when it comes to certain aspects of our play, so would they slice us open and hurt us? Klopp is a brilliant manager who knows how to get one over on the other top managers in the league, but Pep Guardiola is no slouch himself. So, how did it all pan out and what were the talking points?
We Desperately Need To Be More Clinical
To suggest that this was a fast-paced game would be an under-statement. It was played at an incredible pace, with both teams going for the jugular in their own way. For the first twenty minutes or so Manchester City looked unstoppable. The Liverpool rearguard was put under pressure time and again and had to do everything it could to keep them at bay. It felt like the sort of game where an opening goal for the home team was a matter of when, not if. Yet we managed to ride out the storm and by the half hour mark we were even turning the tide a little. City became a bit ragged towards then end of the first-half and that carried over into the second period.
Absolutely, positively bananas that it’s still goalless at the Etihad.
— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) March 19, 2017
Six minutes after the restart and a foul on Roberto Firmino meant we were given a penalty that Mr. Reliable James Milner slotted home. In the ten or so minutes that followed, City became even more ragged and were decidedly sloppy in possession. Time and again it looked like we were just about to create an opening, only for their defenders to stop us at the last minute. I thought John Stones had a fine game, but Nicolas Otamendi looked superb. Even with their defence recovering when necessary, we still should have scored at least one more whilst City were on the ropes. It’s not the first time that this Liverpool side has failed to capitalise on its domination and if we don’t being in someone clinical in the summer then it won’t be the last.
To give Willy Caballero his due, he made some good saves during our period of dominance, just as his defenders made some excellent tackles. City regained their shape and their composure and the started to turn the screw in the second-half. James Milner has picked up a little recently after a period where we looked very much out of form at the start of 2017, but it was clear that City were targeting him and trying to exploit his lack of pace. As well they might, considering that the likes of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Kevin de Bruyne are as fast as lightening. Liverpool’s only player who offers anything like that is Sadio Mané, but even he was tiring by the end.
Still in shock from that Lallana miss, what a ball from Wijnaldum, deserved a goal.
— James (@GegenExpress) March 19, 2017
If any moment can sum up Liverpool’s wastefulness in front of goal, though, then it was surely Adam Lallana’s miss. The ball from Gini Wijnaldum that set both Lallana and Firmino off to beat the offside trap was sumptuous, as was the Brazilian’s first touch. Adam Lallana has not been a slouch in front of goal this season and he’s been at his best when breaking through and coming onto play, so if you were to pause the action as the ball left Firmino’s foot and had the chance to place a bet, you’d stake your life on Lallana hitting the back of the net. Had he done so it may well have killed them game dead and seen us leapfrog Manchester City into third. You know what happened next. Lallana isn’t the main culprit when it comes to missing big chances, but he’s symptomatic of our issues.
Emre Can Was Excellent
I’ve not been shy to criticise Emre Can recently. The German has been poor for the majority of the season, slowing down our midfield and looking far too ponderous on the ball. Jordan Henderson’s dynamism offers everything that Emre Can doesn’t and I’ve not been afraid to say as much. The only times that he’s looked like a half-decent player are when he’s been used in a two with Gini Wijnaldum against the bigger teams. When playing against smaller teams he’s looked completely out of place and I’ve been desperate to see anyone else play there instead. For evidence, witness his performance against Arsenal compared to the first-half he put out against Burnley last week.
Can’s best performance of the season so far. Been excellent.
— Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) March 19, 2017
Despite accusations that have been levelled at me on Twitter, I have no agenda against Emre Can. All I want is for Liverpool to do the best they possibly can and I haven’t been convinced that the German allows us to do that. I want to be wrong as far as he’s concerned, so I have no problem whatsoever in praising him when he plays well. Today is very much one of those days. Can was excellent throughout, dominating the midfield of one of the most expensively assembled squads in world football. Yaya Toure is many things, but weak on the ball he is not. To see our number 23 ease him off the ball repeatedly and out-pace him on numerous occasions was a delight.
I’m still not convinced that Can is the player we need against the dross of the Premier League and I desperately hope that Jordan Henderson is back in time for our matches against the likes of Watford, Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough. Having said that, if we manage to qualify for the Champions League next season then we will have plenty of games against top-quality opposition and that’s where the German appears to be at his best. We came away from the Etihad with a draw today in no small part thanks to his work on and off the ball. Add to that his partnership with Gini Wijnaldum and you can see why Jürgen Klopp was reluctant to spend big on a midfielder in January.
Our 3 midfielders were outstanding. That’s the Emre Can I want to see in a red shirt #LFC
— Jordie McCluskey (@jordiemccluskey) March 19, 2017
As for Wijnaldum, the Dutchman has been a revelation. I’m not sure any of us imagined he would be that sort of player for us, but Klopp is one of the best managers in the world for a reason. He is a strong, quick, intelligent player whose movement on and off the ball adds a huge amount to the team. That he’s added goals in big games is also important and I’m confident that he will go on to be an even more crucial member of our XI next season. Despite what Newcastle fans were quick to suggest, he doesn’t go missing in games either. He was one of our better players in the poor performance at the King Power, for example. We’re not there yet, but we’re heading towards getting back one of the best midfields in the world.
Breaking The Narrative To Earn Top Four
With nine games left, Liverpool will have to hope certain things go our way if we’re to make it into the Champions League spots. Nineteen more points would put us on 74 and it’s only taken more than that to make the top four once in the past five seasons. On paper our run-in is the easiest of everyone’s and it shouldn’t be too difficult to pull that off. Six wins and two draws would allow for a loss and we should still get enough points on the board to get us across the line. The problem is that this isn’t a Liverpool side that likes to do things the easy way.
20 – Liverpool have won 20 points in 10 games vs the top 6 teams this season, but just 19 points in 10 games vs the bottom six clubs. Story. pic.twitter.com/eObywO6M7c
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 19, 2017
A Good run-in on paper means nothing in reality. We’ll be going up against teams that will be fighting for their very existence in the Premier League. Anyone who thinks Bournemouth, West Ham or even Tony Pulis’ West Brom team are going to roll over and let us tickle their bellies isn’t thinking things through properly. That’s to say nothing of a very tricky tie against a resurgent Everton side that we’ve got coming up after the international break. Yes Everton haven’t won at Anfield since before Ben Woodburn was born or some such ridiculous fact, but Romelu Lukaku is in the form of his life and is playing for a move away from Goodison Park this summer, so don’t be surprised if he’s on one at the start of April.
Plenty of the top teams still have to play each other, however, so points will be dropped. The title has been Chelsea’s to lose since the turn of the year, but the race for the top four might be the most exciting it’s ever been this time around. There are five teams trying to fit into three places. For us to be one of them we’re going to have to break the narrative that we can’t get results against the smaller sides. (We could also do with a bit more luck with referees than we got today, but that’s a topic I’m not getting into). There are likely to be a few more twists and turns before the seasons over – Liverpool need to ensure that our story isn’t one of them.