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Monday, 28 November 2011

Thompson Talks Tactics: Liverpool 1-1 Manchester City (27/11/11)

By Sam Thompson

Who needed the win more? Who has the best right back? Would Man City finally lose? Billed as my game of the week on the podcast, here are my thoughts on Manchester City's draw with Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday... 

1) Milner in central midfield

James Milner was selected ahead of Nigel De Jong in Manchester City’s midfield. Milner is clearly a more attacking option in midfield than the Dutchman. Gone are the days of Mancini opting for a very defensive midfield threesome of De Jong, Toure and Barry in big games.

2) Manchester City’s fluent 4-2-3-1

It turned out that Milner’s selection ahead of De Jong was tactical. When in possession, Milner was very much so used as a right winger in a 4-2-3-1. Aguero stayed up front with Nasri in his left hand side role, expected to cut inside to allow Clichy to get in attacking positions. With Nasri staying on the left, Silva naturally tried to exploit the space just off Aguero, in between Liverpool’s centre backs and Lucas in midfield. With Silva drifting centrally, as mentioned during England’s victory over Spain, Milner exploited the space left by Silva, by playing as the right winger with Barry and Toure sitting.

3) Liverpool wanted a point

It was clear to see that Liverpool wanted a point. There full backs were less willing to go forward (more about this later) and were often pinned back by Manchester City’s front three/four. Furthermore, there wingers were just as conservative, with Kuyt playing as the only link between midfield and attack. Adam is primarily a deep-lying playmaker, Lucas sat in front of his defence and both Henderson and Downing are not as attacking selections as Maxi Rodrgiuez and Bellamy (who presumably didn’t play after the devastating news of Gary Speed’s death).

4) Manchester City’s defensive shape

Yes, Manchester City attacked in four separate bands, a 4-2-3-1, but they defended in three solid bands, a 4-4-2. When Liverpool attacked down the left, Nasri tucked in as a left midfielder with Toure and Barry operating in a deeper central position with Silva just ahead, in and around Lucas, with the right back keeping an eye on Downing. This left Aguero and Milner up front, although Milner was typically pegged back by Enrique’s delayed attacking runs (more later). When Liverpool attacked down the right, Milner dropped into midfield, leaving Aguero and Nasri up front.

5) Four attacking full backs. Two variations.

Enrique, Johnson, Clichy and Richards are all attacking full backs, but the Liverpool full backs attack very differently to their City counterparts. Richards and Clichy both bomb forward no matter what side of the pitch the ball is on and often take up a position, and therefore receive the ball, level with the 18 yard box. Liverpool’s full backs are more conservative. They only attack when the ball is on their side and instead of taking an early attacking position like City’s full backs, they wait for play to build up and then make late, overlapping, runs past their wingers.

6) Suarez and Kuyt on the attack

One feature of Liverpool’s attack that proved to be effective was Kuyt’s movement. He defended as a midfield player but when his side had the ball he was far more creative. Sometimes he would remain wide on the right and allow Henderson to venture centrally, but most of the time he attacked from the right hand side, with Suarez, as usual, sticking to an attacking position from the left wing, running centrally towards goal. On more than one occasion Kuyt and Suarez were able to link up by Suarez picking up the ball on the left hand side and running diagonally toward goal with Kuyt drifting in from the right hand side to take up a slightly left sided attacking position, allowing Suarez to play a through ball in behind (as shown in the diagram below).

7) Reina’s enthusiasm

One feature of Reina’s play today was his enthusiasm and confidence to come off his goal line and claim the ball outside of his box. On one occasion however this failed, with Silva failing to capitalise after taking too long to move the ball out of his feet and meeting a wall of Liverpool players on the goal line.

8) Suarez’s isolation up top

Suarez was often left on the half way line with the rest of his team mates in Liverpool’s defensive third. Typically, his only option was Kuyt running from midfield so more often than not Suarez was left to hold up the ball and draw in fouls to take away the pressure from his defenders. Andy Carroll must have looked on and wondered why he wasn’t being selected to perform such a role.

9) Liverpool at their best out wide

Again Carroll must have looked on and questioned why he wasn’t brought on until the 84th minute. Liverpool were at their best when they were roughly twenty-five yards out from goal either side and able to ‘whip in’ crosses. Several times this put Hart and his defenders under pressure but unfortunately for the home side, only Suarez was regularly in the box (he was sometimes joined by Kuyt and occasionally Henderson when Kuyt forced him to play more centrally).

10) Lucas has come a long way

Lucas Leiva has come a long way from his dodgy first season at Anfield. He was given the task of dealing with Silva drifting in more often than not from the right and the physically imposing Yaya Toure bombarding from deeper midfield positions. The Brazilian contributed greatly towards his sides defensive solidarity for the majority of the game (let’s not forget it’s been weeks since City failed to score at least twice in a game) and was my man of the match.

Thompson Talks Tactics will be a fortnightly feature on Monday's about my tactical observations from the weekend’s action.
I am by no means a tactical wizard and all of the above are just my observations – you may agree with some and disagree with others!
If you have any feedback please don’t hesitate to leave your comments in the box below.
Keep listening to the Podcast!

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