Liverpool vs Manchester City
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Liverpool vs. Manchester City: Did Klopp & Guardiola Adopt Each Other’s Philosophy?

Liverpool and Manchester City’s clash in the Premier League’s 28th round ended in a stalemate. This draw put Liverpool in a tie for the top spot (second due to goal difference), with Arsenal at 64 points and just a point ahead of Manchester City. The ongoing Anfield struggle for the Citizens was evident, as they’ve only secured a single win in their last 21 visits.

Liverpool’s lineup faced a challenge with Ibrahima Konaté out due to an injury from their Europa League game against Sparta Praha, forcing Jürgen Klopp to turn to 21-year-old Jarrell Quansah to fill in the center-back role. The German also made the decision to play Joe Gomez at left back over Andrew Robertson, with the rest of the squad being as predicted, given Mo Salah’s inability to play the full 90 minutes due to fitness concerns.

On the other hand, with only Jack Grealish unavailable, Pep Guardiola managed to field his strongest starting eleven. The decision to keep Ruben Dias on the bench seemed to be a tactical move by the Spaniard.

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Credit: Sofascore

Corner Taken Quickly by City!

Amid their quest for an unprecedented quadruple and fueled by the emotional announcement of Klopp’s mid-season departure, the atmosphere at Anfield was electric. However, Manchester City hit the ground running, putting Liverpool’s Caoimhín Kelleher under more pressure from the outset.

The Citizens skillfully navigated through Liverpool’s aggressive five-man front press by distributing the ball to the flanks. With Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden dynamically interchanging positions on the right side of the field, Liverpool’s midfielders were often caught off guard, mistiming their press. This left Wataru Endo in a tough spot, isolated between the lines and unable to cover both 10s.

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This passage highlights Szoboszlai’s delayed response in marking Kevin De Bruyne, giving the Belgian the chance to control the game and connect with Phil Foden.

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Following this, Rodri received the ball and spotted De Bruyne making a dash down the right flank.

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Although this particular move concluded with Virgil van Dijk intercepting the ball, a similar sequence set the stage for the game’s first shot by Julián Álvarez. Once again, Wataru Endo found himself stranded as Liverpool’s midfielders failed to coordinate their press, leaving gaps.

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Notice how Alexis Mac Allister ended up lost in transition, as Manchester City cleverly bypassed Liverpool’s defensive line with a straightforward pass to Erling Haaland.

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Despite Manchester City’s early dominance, they didn’t manage to take the lead, thanks to Kelleher’s impressive saves against Julián Álvarez and Kevin De Bruyne within the first eight minutes. As time passed, Liverpool began to assert themselves more in the game. An interesting tactical adjustment occurred about 10 minutes in, with van Dijk and Quansah swapping positions, broadening the passing angles for the Dutchman

This tweak paid off when Liverpool created their first real threat—van Dijk launched a long ball to Conor Bradley, setting up a chance for Darwin Núñez. However, the Uruguayan couldn’t’ connect with the pass from the right-back.

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In fact, with Conor Bradley holding the flank and Harvey Elliott positioning himself in the right-half space, this dup became Liverpool’s primary source of concern for Manchester City.

However, the deadlock broke 22 minutes in with a cleverly worked corner by Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones that silenced Anfield by putting City ahead. Nonetheless, Liverpool didn’t let this setback dampen their spirits. They continued to exploit direct balls, nearly finding success with another link-up between Bradley and Elliott around the 30th-minute mark.

With Elliott drawing Stones and Aké’s attention in the right half-space, Bradley found space to receive a wide pass from Joe Gomez’s switch.

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Elliott dropped back immediately, and upon receiving the ball in the right half-space, the 20-year-old midfielder once again demonstrated his creativity with a cross that found Dominik Szoboszlai, who headed the ball wide.

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The remainder of the first half saw both teams create significant chances. Erling Haaland sent a direct shot at Kelleher after a face-off with Van Dijk, Luis Diaz’s strike from outside the box narrowly missed Ederson’s goal; and Kyle Walker’s overly powerful cross intended for De Bruyne signalled the end of the first half.

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Switching Philosophies at Half-Time?

Just 90 seconds into the second half, Darwin Núñez pounced on Nathan Aké’s ill-judged pass back to Ederson, intercepting the ball and earning the Reds a penalty, which Alexis Mac Allister coolly converted. The situation worsened for the Citizens as Ederson had to leave the pitch minutes later, following his collision with the Uruguayan striker.

The second half unfolded with an interesting twist, as each team seemed to adopt the other’s typical strategies. Manchester City, known for their remarkable 91.15% build-up success rate, found it challenging to overcome Liverpool’s press, a stark contrast to the period of the game. This shift was primarily due to Liverpool’s improved pressing coordination. In one notable sequence, Mac Allister’s pressure on Akanji forced a hurried long ball, and with Joe Gomez stepping into the midfield, Liverpool capitalised on a high turnover.

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Even when City occasionally broke through Liverpool’s press in the second half, their final touches in the box lacked quality, as evidenced by just five deep completions—their season’s lowest in any competition. Liverpool’s adoption of a 4-2-4 mid-block was a key factor in stifling City’s offensive efforts.

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Interestingly, Liverpool dominated ball possession, with Mac Allister and Endo anchoring the midfield. Their effective ball circulation and tight control limited City’s chances for quick transitions. Together, they won 14 out of 21 duels, with Endo boasting a remarkable 95% pass completion rate, compared to Mac Allister’s 81%.

Klopp’s decision to introduce star player Mohamed Salah nearly paid immediate dividends, as Salah swiftly set up Luis Díaz for a one-on-one with the keeper, which the Colombian narrowly missed. The hosts kept up their search for a decisive goal, with Díaz and Núñez missing crucial opportunities and a stroke of luck, or lack of it, for City, as a Foden attempt deflected off him and hit the crossbar.

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Seventy minutes in, Guardiola made strategic substitutions, pulling De Bruyne and Álvarez for Jérémy Doku and Matteo Kovačić, aiming to enhance ball retention and revert to City’s customary man-to-man press. This momentarily shifted control of the ball back to City. Yet, it didn’t last long.

End-to-end action characterized the final 10 minutes of the game, which reached its peak intensity. Doku struck the post for City, and Cody Gakpo did the same for Liverpool, though his effort was ultimately ruled offside.

A showdown between Liverpool and Manchester City wouldn’t be complete without its share of VAR controversy, would it? In the game’s final moments, Jérémy Doku’s high challenge on Alexis Mac Allister in the penalty area sparked debate. However, following a VAR review, Martin Tyler signalled for the game to continue, culminating in a draw.

Statistically, Liverpool edged ahead with 52.9% possession, a greater field tilt at 54.4%, and a higher build-up completion at 85.4%. Conversely, Manchester City boasted a more direct passing approach, with an average pass directness of 33.4m, and longer goal kicks, averaging 38.4m. These stats raise an intriguing question: did both teams adopt elements of each other’s philosophies in this clash?

Liverpool’s continuation of their unbeaten streak, now at eight matches across all competitions, places them just behind Arsenal on goal difference in the Premier League title race. Meanwhile, City’s 21-game unbeaten run leaves them just a point shy of the top duo.

With all three sides hitting top form in recent years, we should all embrace ourselves for the most thrilling title race we have had in years.

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