Manchester City finally lose a game of football in the Premier League. This has been the headline and talking point when Guardiola’s men surrendered to a 4-3 defeat at Liverpool. They arrived at Anfield with a feeling that if they manage to get something here, they could well end “invincibles.” But it wasn’t to be for the Citizens and it never seems to happen for them at Merseyside.
So, the unbeaten streak is over and as much as the team will be looking at the prospects left this season, Guardiola was also quick to point that out. They are still in all four competitions with Premier League pretty much in their grasps. The only worry there is whether they are physically strong enough to continue playing the way they do till May. We will take a look at how Manchester City lost the plot at Anfield and why they are still runaway Premier League champions-elect.
Pressed out at Anfield: –
Liverpool played the way we expected them to play especially at home. Pressing high and making City’s midfielders uncomfortable on the ball with closing down of the highest order. The likes of Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones all of a sudden felt very uncomfortable on the ball when pressed. The defensive positioning of Fernandinho was on few occasions not right allowing space for Liverpool forwards in between the lines.
Manchester City haven’t been tested this well so far in terms of being comfortable in possession. So, this test would always be a barometer of few sorts as not many teams will be able to try this tactic against them. This high pressing against a very good football playing side is a risk not worth taking if the initial pressure is broken through. Not many teams, especially in the Premier League, are equipped to do it for 70-75 minutes regularly. Liverpool of course, are masters of it under Klopp.
Pep’s struggles against quick counter-attacks and high-press: –
So, if we look at the remaining challenges for City, they probably won’t be much tested in possession in the Premier League. Something they will be aimed at from the Champions League teams though. Guardiola’s team in the past, have generally struggled against teams which presses high and don’t allow easy space in midfield.
Remember the 2014/15 Champions League semi-final between Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Pep was Bayern’s manager then, his team struggled when Barcelona pressed them high and allowed no easy space in midfield. Barcelona picked them on the counter-attacks with ease winning balls in midfield.
Going back to 2013/14, Real Madrid schooled Bayern 5-0 on aggregate with quick counter-attacks and no space in midfield. The Catalan manager struggled to find an answer back then too. His record against Jurgen Klopp is twitchy for reasons stated above. So, the challenge for him going into Champions League knockouts and further down the line, is to make his team better equipped to deal with these situations.
Challenges for Manchester City this season: –
If you count the number of games which are tough on paper for Manchester City in the Premier League, it probably rises up to 3. The away games to Arsenal and Tottenham might test them, while a derby at home against Manchester United might be trialed. Other than that, we should not see City struggling in any games assuming the fact they won’t drop down physically and mentally.
The main obstacles might come in Champions League and in later stages of FA Cup. The European challenge would be one for Guardiola to solve tactically. The FA Cup challenge if they go very far, might be solved by improving the mental aspect of the game. The reason if City continue to remain in all the competitions, they might have to play a game every 3 days till May. Now, that’d be quite taxing to a team which plays on edge in terms of intensity.
So, in all fairness, the challenge for the manager might not always be the tactical one, it might be more about keeping the players fresh and fit.
Summing this up, the loss at Liverpool should not come as a halting factor for Manchester City. It can arrive as a warning for Guardiola and his team as to what they can expect to face if they go in later stages of the Champions League. This needs to be their top priority in terms of getting it right at the biggest stage. The Anfield stage proved too much for them, they have to work to not get done by similar situations again.
Remember, they can still win the treble and quadruple if right things are done in the remaining 4 months.