Manchester City finally lost a game on Sunday, ending one of the greatest runs of form that most football fans will ever see. Liverpool obviously had a formidable performance and it was unrealistic to expect City to go the entire season unbeaten. This game will be used as a teaching experience by Pep Guardiola to clean up all of the flaws that were exposed in this match.
So what did Liverpool do that no other team has been able to all season?
Aside from being an incredibly talented squad in both technical skill and athleticism, Liverpool were able to effectively execute the aggressive press that Jurgen Klopp is so well known for. This was the first time all season that I thought Manchester City looked uncomfortable on the ball, and Liverpool deserve a world of credit for causing that.
Klopp was pushing two players at the ball at all times, frequently from different directions, leaving City players no time to settle. Emre Can was a vital part of this as he was responsible for being the second man in this pressure in a variety of areas on the pitch. When Fernandinho would have the ball, Can would press from a deep midfield position while Roberto Firmino would come down from his striker position with pace. This multidirectional pressure would leave no space for Fernandinho to turn anywhere with the ball and forced a challenging one-touch pass.
Emre Can was also pressing from sideline to sideline as Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané picked up possession, often with a Liverpool full-back coming upfield and a winger coming downfield to surround City’s possession on the boundary. Liverpool’s wingers, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah, were extremely active on the defensive side, not only pressing the City backline but also recovering into their own half frequently.
With the Liverpool midfield stepping far upfield, this obviously left space in behind them for City to expose. Kevin De Bruyne was able to create havoc in those areas at times, but Sergio Agüero had difficulty finding link-up passes there. One of Liverpool's center-backs, Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren, would track Agüero into midfield to trouble the pass while a midfielder would press from above if the ball was played in.
All of this pressure resulted in the most dysfunctional possession City have displayed all season. The Blues were making mistakes left and right, consistently leaving themselves in vulnerable positions. The third and fourth goals by Liverpool were a direct result of nonchalant, irresponsible passing by City. Nicolas Otamendi had a pass blocked and recovered by Salah without any defensive cover, forcing John Stones to come over to prevent a 1-on-1 scenario. However, Sadio Mané was now left in space behind Stones and received the pass with plenty of time and space to pick out the top corner of the goal.
Liverpool’s final goal came off a poor clearance by Ederson, who came off his line with Sadio Mané pursuing a through ball. Ederson attempted to complete a pass to midfield on the floor instead of booting it deep and it was intercepted by Salah. The Egyptian expertly chipped the ball over Ederson for what was ultimately the game-winning goal. Liverpool created a number of additional dangerous opportunities from the efficiency of their press.
Though the press was the foundation of Liverpool's defensive gameplan, Klopp made sure his team switched up their strategy every once and a while to stay unpredictable. Liverpool would sit slightly deeper at times in addition to alternating where they diverted City’s possession between central midfield and the flanks. These variations prevented Manchester City from anticipating where Liverpool would move defensively and frequently left them making hasty decisions with the ball.
Liverpool are one of the toughest matchups City will face all season. Roberto Firmino is a unique and challenging player to defend as he is often a playmaker out of the central striker position. His tendency to pick up possession in midfield while the pace of Salah and Mané gets in behind will test even the most defensively solid teams.
That being said, City did a lot of good things in this game and one loss should not cause doubt on their quality. Pep Guardiola’s team were able to beat the press on numerous occasions, create numerous chances, and score three goals. The Blues were a little sloppy on the ball and were unable to connect in the attacking third due to poor passing and heavy touches.
Liverpool were the better team on this day, it’s hard to argue with that but even down 4-1 I never felt as if City were out of the game. If anything, this game is a reminder that City cannot get complacent with their place in the table and I doubt Pep would let them do so. It will be interesting to see what changes he makes, if any, and how City will attack/defend teams that play with Liverpool’s style moving forward.