THere’s a very easy way to make good players look like the beaters of the world – give them time and space. Liverpool and Manchester City are packed with quality that can tear any opponent apart if allowed to play on their own terms, so it will be important for both sides to execute a perfect pressure game when they meet at Anfield on Sunday.
The game could be won with the work done without the ball. City showed how to do this against Chelsea, and Liverpool will be very careful not to fall for similar traps. City had 62% possession, but their pressure efficiency was 10% higher than Chelsea. City interrupted their opponents’ plan to play from behind thanks to the relentless nature of their attackers, something they will be looking to repeat at Anfield.
This is a difficult week for City, who will play three of their most intense games of the season in the space of nine days, the game in Liverpool after the games in Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain. They have injury problems and given the intensity of their game, they could risk withering in the later stages on Sunday. It takes a lot of physical energy and mental focus to repeatedly be in the right place to push effectively.
City have conceded a solo goal in six league games, earning great credit for the defense, but those defenders will thank the forwards for their hard work in making this possible. The pressure up front makes things easier for defenders, because they know where the next pass from the opposition is going, allowing them to protect the area in front of them and quickly nullify the threat.
It’s exhausting spending 90 minutes pushing and people forget you have to get off it. It takes a long time to get down from that height because it is an adrenaline rush. If you have a game at 8pm, it won’t be down until three or four in the morning. Recovery starts the next day, but then you are preparing for the next game, so the training is really short, and it is imperative to manage your mind and body effectively during these intense periods.
We will see throughout the City season that they will go after the press on its ups and downs because no one can sustain it for a long period. They have such good possession against weaker teams that they don’t need to push them too hard, which means City can salvage relentless pressure for superior teams, and it just so happens that three of those games have been pushed back to a single week.
Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp, like Sir Alex Ferguson in the past, will have had a strategy to attack this crucial week, with plans for every match. They will have had perfect scenarios in their minds, although neither team came out unscathed, with City losing in Paris and Liverpool losing points in Brentford, leaving both coaches much to ponder. This may derail them from the original plan, but they have fantastic players at their disposal and their flexibility is crucial at times like this. Neither of you will be afraid to adapt at the last minute if you think it will help your team in the short term.
Overdrive attacks on the left have been a useful tool for City this season as they look to get Jack Grealish into the game as much as possible. Chelsea struggled to cope with the combination of Grealish and João Cancelo, and with the news that Trent Alexander-Arnold is out, it would not be a surprise if City looked to repeat their trick, as the duo begin to sync up on the left flank. .
Brentford showed how to get to Liverpool, scoring three goals against a defense that had only conceded once in their previous five league games. They saw that things were not working against Klopp’s side because the Liverpool press was incredibly effective, so they dodged it by going more direct. Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo caused several problems for Virgil van Dijk and Joël Matip thanks to their link play by receiving the ball from behind.
City’s philosophy is to play from defense and through teams to create chances, but Guardiola won’t be afraid to mix things up for the sake of victory. We’ve seen for several seasons how Ederson can send a booming long pass to the highest attacking point on the field to quickly change the direction of play and catch a defense. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ferran Torres or Raheem Sterling started in the middle to give City a chance to stretch Liverpool’s bottom line, as Brentford did.
Liverpool will be aware of how City likes to dominate the midfield areas against their rivals at the top. Chelsea couldn’t cope with things in the middle of the park because Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho lacked the physical capabilities to resist City. Klopp will make sure to counter this by utilizing his fittest and most physical players in that department. Despite Liverpool’s injury problems in central midfield, they still have the quality and stamina to form a 3-pointer and go head-to-head with City.
Due to the pace of the game, and the need to break away from the press, it could look like a basketball game on Sunday. The team that innovates most effectively to counter the press will have the best chance of winning, as Klopp and Guardiola try to outperform each other at their own game.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism