How the tactical chess game between Klopp and Guardiola will play out
As the weeks go by, it seems increasingly clear that the 2021/22 Premier League season will give us one of the best title battles we’ve ever seen.
“If we had a striker, we would win the game! – xG Battle # 2 – Liverpool vs Man City
It was a hugely important victory for City, a game of tactical organization and pressing intensity to ward off skeptics after a somewhat tricky start to the season. They are now tied with Chelsea and one point behind Liverpool at the top, which sets things right for a six-point at Anfield that could have huge ramifications at the end of the season.
It will be a fascinating game, but probably not a top level game. Man City’s 4-1 victory last season flattered them slightly and came at a time when Liverpool were at their lowest; their defense will be considerably better than the last time the teams met.
Nonetheless, this game is a good place to start our overview, as – as usual in the ongoing tactical chess between Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp – lessons will have been learned from their final rounds.
Changes in the game will decide the match
Man City’s transition from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 in the second half was the key moment in their 4-1 victory. Liverpool had sat surprisingly deep throughout the game to limit City’s offensive interaction, but once the change was made City essentially used two false nines (Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden) to operate between the lines.
Liverpool defenders were confused, struggling with no one to score, as the midfield battle was suddenly overwhelmed by Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri (scooping the ball deep) and the two false nines.
This is highly unlikely to happen again, simply because Man City games against Liverpool are never repeated; it is to the honor of the two managers that the match continues to transform from year to year.
However, we can expect a certain level of caution from both teams, with City and Liverpool being far more concerned with avoiding defeat than taking three points. Expect relatively deep lines and pressure on short bursts, with space squeezing through the midfield creating 90 minutes of high intensity but restrictive football.
Their last reunion also reminded us that in-game changes will likely decide the outcome which, sadly, isn’t something we can tactically predict in a preview. Whatever the starting lineup and the first models, at halftime things will change as Klopp and Guardiola will adapt to change the flow.
Still, we can at least work on the first part and draw attention to any tactical lag ahead of Sunday’s game.
Grealish weapon can help too narrow Man City
Man City can be made a bit too narrow in their building game. This is why Chelsea started in a 3-5-2 last weekend with Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner sometimes just five yards apart when City had the ball in order to cut the pass to Rodri.
Chelsea’s disconnect between the lines ultimately meant City could write them down and grind them, but there was method in Thomas Tuchel’s approach – and he wasn’t the first manager to shut down the center column.
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This is how Southampton and Tottenham took points from Guardiola’s side, which can seem slow and directionless when forced to move into a U-shape around a compact form of opposition.
Liverpool’s narrow 4-3-3 will be just as deep (ish), but their problem is that a lack of defensive support for the full-backs (Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah won’t return) could expose them to Jack Grealish. He’s the outside ball when City are forced to rule out, and so far the 27-year-old has looked very sharp.
Grealish just shakes things up, driving right-back or cutting inside to open up the defense; he leads the Premier League’s charts for key assists this season. With Trent Alexander-Arnold likely to miss the game, Grealish will imagine his chances against James Milner, and certainly their battle there is one to watch.
Rodri might have a harder time with Jota around
Rodri was brilliant against Chelsea to help City keep the ball and attack with speed, but Chelsea had no one to connect Lukaku and Werner to the central midfielder, which made the Spaniard’s job quite easy.
Liverpool should be able to put more pressure on him and, like Spurs and Southampton this season, exhibit the smoothness of the City midfielder in the face of strong and consistent counterattackers.
Diogo Jota is very adept at diving deep to retrieve the ball, and his bonding game on Sunday could prove too much for Rodri. These two will be in a fight throughout the game for those loose balls and Jota will be the hub of all Liverpool counters.
If he outwits the City midfielder, Liverpool can dodge the first wave of the press and push their full-backs away, galloping through the holes that appear behind Guardiola’s side.
But this is just a glimpse of the first exchanges of a tense tactical match. It’s how the two coaches react to the way things are going that will ultimately decide the game, and if the game is still tied on time, we can anticipate that both coaches will make changes to keep that. that they have, rather than aiming for a winner.
It will be a long and fierce fight for the title. Better to stay in the conversation than risk a damaging defeat.
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