Analysis: Gritty Liverpool overcome brave and bold City system to progress

Analysis: Gritty Liverpool overcome brave and bold City system to progress

Manchester City threw the kitchen sink on Wednesday night, but Liverpool had a good set of plumbers.

OliverEmmerson
Oliver Emmerson

Everyone expected something special, something unique from Pep Guardiola. He didn't disappoint.

For 45 minutes on Tuesday evening, Manchester City were everywhere.

Liverpool couldn't live with them, a sea of blue cutting forward with every motion, how only one goal was scored will perplex the brightest of Citizens for months and maybe years to come.

But, the men from Merseyside overcame it. They weathered the storm, coming out the other side battered and bruised yet through all the same.

Manchester City 1-2 Liverpool. Five Liverpool goals to one City strike on aggregate. Nobody saw that coming. How do you pick the second leg apart?

Three at the back, the rest attack

'Walker at centre-back, Fernandinho right-back? No Kompany, Laporte vs Salah again?'

These were all good questions as City's line-up edged into public knowledge around 75 minutes before kick-off, with Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte and Nicolas Otamendi the only defenders in City's side, Fernandinho the only man ahead of them you'd consider a defensive midfielder.

City were going for it, shuffling into a 3-2-3-2 formation when attacking and then back into a slightly more conventional 3-4-2-1 when defending. 

In possession, midfield maestro Kevin de Bruyne would drop deep alongside Fernandinho, with Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane occupying each wing as David Silva floated between them, behind the striking pair of Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.

It was the striking combination that let to City breaking the deadlock within 120 seconds, Sterling slipping the ball across to Jesus who easily beat Loris Karius.

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Klopp reacts to halt the tide 

Having bagged that opener, City were pushing for more and spent the first 25 minutes firmly in Liverpool's half. 

City knew they'd expose themselves to a counter-attack with the system they played, but by pinning Liverpool back with such attacking genius they prevented the Reds from getting bodies forward to support their front three.

Jurgen Klopp had to do something, opting to move Sadio Mane to the right flank, Mohamed Salah into the middle and Roberto Firmino into Mane's position on the left.

Moving Salah up front offered Liverpool a little more pace through the middle on the break, but it was in the wide areas where the change really influenced the Reds.

By pitting Firmino directly against City's smallest defender, Kyle Walker, Liverpool did a little better aerially than when the Brazilian was facing up to Laporte and Otamendi, relieving some pressure.

On the other side, Mane, who Klopp described as being in an "outstanding moment" post-game, offered the again excellent Trent Alexander-Arnold the support he needed to avoid an overload. 

Refereeing decisions key

Whilst that tactical tweak from Klopp helped Liverpool get a hold on the game, it would be unfair to say that it stopped City from dominating - until the second-half at least. 

In that second-half, the hosts had no manager on the touchline.

Pep Guardiola was banished at half-time after remonstrating with the referee for his first half decisions, Leroy Sane having a goal ruled out for offside despite the final touch before he scored being off Liverpool man James Milner.

The City boss had already been incensed by Gabriel Jesus' disallowed goal at Anfield last week, and stormed down the tunnel at half-time knowing that had Jesus and Sane's goals both stood, City would have been ahead on away goals at that point.

However, to suggest that the controversial refereeing was only going in Liverpool's favour was wrong.

Ederson was lucky to stay on the pitch after doing his very best to provoke Sadio Mane into a red card early on, whilst Mane would have surely won a penalty and seen Fernandinho sent off had Salah not picked up the ball to knock in Liverpool's equaliser.

It took the Reds some luck to get past a side that Klopp described as 'the best in Europe', but who can blame them?

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Can the smarter Reds dare to dream?

It also took a little bit of gamesmanship, something that's scarcely associated with Liverpool.

Trent Alexander-Arnold had City fans foaming at the mouth in the first half as he delayed a throw in before asking the referee to change the ball, successfully.

Loris Karius' impressive blonde locks and model-like face don't typically lend themselves to the rough and tumble of snidery, but even the young German had his time-wasting down to a subtle yet efficient point, taking the sting out of things at key points.

Those skills, exhibited by Alexander-Arnold and Karius, aren't the one's to get fans off their seats but are often associated with winners, something Klopp eluded to post-match when talking about his ever-maturing side.

"We mature constantly," said Klopp.

"The boys get more and more used to situations like that, if you could say anything bad about us in the past few months is that on a good day we beat everybody and on an average day we lose goals. It’s all about confidence, being convinced in what you’re doing.”

Just three more good days, Liverpool fans will be thinking.

After getting over such a hurdle, they can start to dream of European Cup number six.

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