By all standards, it has been an absolutely horrible week for Manchester City. Entering the week, they not only had the chance to clinch the Premier League title but also to put themselves in a great position to advance to the semi-finals of the Champions League. They completely failed to capitalize on both opportunities.
Away from home, they lost 3-0 to Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals. This match may have been their worst performance of the season as Liverpool thoroughly dominated them throughout.
They then followed that up by playing in the Manchester Derby with a chance to clinch the Premier League title. Despite going up 2-0 in the first half, they capitulated in the second half and lost 3-2 to Manchester United. Blowing such a great opportunity to win the title against their cross-town rival capped off their week from hell.
However, their next fixture is the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals against Liverpool. With this match being at home, they should have the home support thoroughly behind them. Nevertheless, they will need an absolute masterclass performance from the manager and players alike in order to even have a chance of overturning the 3-0 deficit.
What Went Wrong In The First Leg
Pep Guardiola’s starting 11 for Manchester City missed its mark. He elected to go with Aymeric Laporte at left-back. Laporte, although a fine player, just does not offer much going forward. Thus, Liverpool’s defenders could focus on shutting down Leroy Sané on the left wing without having to worry about Laporte threatening going forward. In addition, Guardiola started İlkay Gündoğan in the center-midfield instead of starting a wide player on the right wing. Manchester City had only Kyle Walker, their wing-back, to look for on the right side of the pitch. Thus, they had to force the ball to Sané repeatedly on the left side. If Guardiola had started a true winger, such as Raheem Sterling, a new dimension would have been brought to Manchester City’s attack
Liverpool’s Tactical Masterclass
In the first leg, Liverpool utterly dominated Manchester City with their press. Coming into the match, the common thought was the team that won the midfield battle would win the game. Liverpool achieved this with their press. They barely allowed Manchester City’s back-line any time on the ball and did a great job of clogging the passing lanes in the center midfield.
Kevin De Bruyne kept dropping deeper into the midfield but Liverpool did a great job of denying him the ball. And once he did receive the ball, he was swarmed by Liverpool players and his distribution options were incredibly limited. He played an uncharacteristic number of misplayed passes and lost possession far more than the norm. This was the trend of all of Manchester City’s midfield. None of them looked comfortable on the ball.
The other key in the first leg was that Trent Alexander-Arnold managed to blanket Manchester City winger, Leroy Sané. Coming into the match, many thought Sané would absolutely expose the inexperienced wingback. However, despite being only nineteen, Alexander-Arnold played the best match of his young career. He shut down Sané throughout the match and never let him get any threatening opportunities on goal. Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren were also immense in covering for Alexander-Arnold and helping him defend Sané. Sané kept receiving the ball from his midfielders and consistently lost possession or made the wrong decision. He, along with the rest of the attack, looked visibly frustrated by the end of the match.
Keys For The Second Leg
One of the things that forced Manchester City to struggle was the fact they played in a shape they were not accustomed to. So, for the second leg, Guardiola should revert back to the formation that has worked so well this season. He should play a left-back such as Fabian Delph who can get up the pitch. He also needs to play a true right-winger such as Bernardo Silva or Raheem Sterling. Both players would provide width to Manchester City’s attack that wasn’t present in the first leg. Finally, he should play their potent center-midfield midfield trio of David Silva, Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne.
The goal for Manchester City in the second leg is fairly straightforward. They need to score three without conceding in order to have a chance of advancing. If they do concede, then they need to score five goals to advance. So clearly, they need to put out a very attacking side. However, Manchester City have scored the most goals in the Premier League by a considerable margin. At home, they have scored three or more goals twelve out of twenty-three times this season. So, they definitely have enough attacking talent to score an abundance of goals in the second leg. However, in those matches, they have only kept nine clean sheets.
When they played Liverpool in the Premier League in September, Manchester City won 5-0. Liverpool did pick up a red card early on, but that match proved that it is possible for Manchester City to overcome their current deficit. If Liverpool picks up a red card or even concedes early, this match becomes instantly tenser.
Liverpool do have a bit of a history of blowing big leads in important matches. In the group stages of the Champions League this season, they went up 3-0 in the first half against Sevilla. However, they conceded three times in the second half and ended up drawing 3-3. Likewise, while chasing the league title in 2013-2014, Liverpool led 3-0 in the second half against Crystal Palace. However, Palace scored three times late in the match and drew Liverpool 3-3.This all but ended Liverpool’s title push that year. If Sevilla and Crystal Palace could stage comebacks in just one half, Manchester City certainly could do so in a full game.
Injuries And Suspensions
Most importantly for Liverpool is the fact that Jordan Henderson is missing this leg after picking up a yellow card towards the end of the previous match. Henderson did a great job in the first leg of shielding the back-line and containing Manchester City’s midfield. He was instrumental in Manchester City having no shots on target in the first leg. Liverpool do not have a player who can slot in seamlessly to that role. So, it will be up to Jürgen Klopp to set up his team in a defensively sound structure that mitigates the loss of Henderson.
Another big key for the second leg involves the health of multiple key players for each side. For Liverpool, Emre Can is injured and will most likely not be able to feature in the midfield. In addition, their leading goal-scorer, Mohammad Salah, picked up an injury in the first leg. Sarah missed the Merseyside Derby over the weekend against Everton. According to Klopp, he should be fine to play in the second leg. However, if he does miss the game, it will be a huge loss to Liverpool’s attack.
For Manchester City, the health of their star striker, Sergio Agüero is of the utmost importance. Manchester City missed him in the first leg as their attack looked absolutely toothless. However, Agüero did feature against Manchester United over the weekend so he should be good to go in the second leg. It will be interesting to see if Guardiola decides to play Agüero up top along with Gabriel Jesus or decides to just bring Jesus off the bench.
Overall, despite the 3-0 deficit for Manchester City, this tie is far from over. Manchester City do have the attacking firepower to score a plethora of goals in this tie. And with Liverpool’s defense being very suspect at times, that is a real possibility. This should a be a cracking second tie and the most entertaining of the four quarter-final second legs.
Prediction: Manchester City 3-1 Liverpool (Liverpool Advances 4-3 on Aggregate)
Featured image by Andrew Yates/Reuters
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