Jürgen Klopp once hailed his Liverpool side’s ability to score vital goals late in matches, referring to them as “mentality monsters.” Recently the Merseyside club have had to rely more and more on these dramatic finales. In each of Liverpool’s last three Premier League matches they’ve trailed at half-time, yet still gone on to pick up seven out of the nine points available in those matches.
City supporters have undoubtedly been frustrated by watching Liverpool continue to look as though they may drop points, thus allowing City to close the gap, only for Liverpool to score late and leave the Citizens feeling disappointed. But two points dropped in their draw at Old Trafford did bring Liverpool back to within striking distance, just six points ahead of Manchester City.
And in that same space of time City have done exactly what they needed to do, winning each of their three Premier League matches against Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, and Southampton on Saturday. While the first two of those results were relatively comfortable, the match against Southampton bore similarities to the late shows that have been put on by Liverpool.
Having gone behind early, City struggled for most of the match to break down an organised and resolute Saints defensive setup. Pep Guardiola made tactical changes in hopes of finding a solution, the first of which was a half-time substitution of Gabriel Jesus being put on to play just behind Sergio Agüero.
However the decisive change didn’t require a substitution, just a tactical shift. Early in the match Kyle Walker had mostly stayed deep and central, with Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne offering width on the right side. But, with Southampton sitting deep and City struggling for an equalizer, Walker began to push high and wide and overlapping at every possible opportunity.
The fact that he executed so well to provide the equalizer and convert the winner is certainly a testament to his quality, and Pep deserves plenty of credit for making the change that sparked the comeback. But the biggest takeaway from the match should be the mentality shown by the team.
In recent seasons City have struggled at times to fashion the sort of comeback that Liverpool have performed so regularly. In truth, often times it hasn’t been necessary. City have made a habit of scoring goals early and playing from ahead. But on the rare occasion that they’ve needed goals late they have not been able to deliver. Some outside of the club have questioned if this team had the fight and determination that has been demonstrated by their title rivals.
With that performance, those questions appear to have been answered. As City pushed for the equalizer and eventual winner, there was an obvious energy and intensity to their play. Of course that didn’t guarantee that they would get the goals they needed, but there was a palpable sense of belief both on the field and in the stands.
They’ll need to carry that same belief into next weekend, as they travel to Anfield in one of the biggest matches of the season. If this weekend’s matches are any indication of what to expect, then supporters should expect a tense affair from the first kick to the final whistle.