Manuel Pellegrini was keen to highlight the importance of scoring goals ahead of Manchester City’s monumental showdown against Liverpool. “The way in football is to score goals, that is why people pay for their tickets. Fans are always trying to celebrate the goals of their teams. That is very important, I think it is the best way to win.”
At the Ethiad Stadium, Pellegrini strayed away from his preferred 4-4-2 due to Sergio Aguero’s absence, and opted to play a 4-2-3-1 with David Silva as the no.10. On the other hand, Brendan Rodgers has Luis Suarez – the best striker in the league on current form – at his disposal, but was adamant on nullifying City’s threat in midfield. This approach was successful against Spurs a few weeks ago – Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson pressed the double-pivot, and constantly played balls behind the high Spurs backline.
Initially, Liverpool’s midfield sat off in a 4-1-4-1, but they didn’t press Yaya Toure or Fernandinho, and the City duo was free to play passes to Samir Nasri and David Silva, who drifted between the lines. Rodgers acknowledged this, and instructed his men to close down the opposition’s midfield. This was a logical approach, but Silva and Nasri’s movement into deeper positions helped City play through Liverpool’s press.
However, City adopted a pragmatic, yet risky approach towards coping with Suarez’s threat. When the home side conceded possession in Liverpool’s half, City’s back four pushed higher up the pitch, preventing Suarez from turning and running at goal – Kompany quickly closed down the isolated Uruguayan striker. Yet, Liverpool’s front three’s combination of pace and intricacy posed legitimate threats for the home side – but for the most part Suarez’s threat was contained.
Liverpool’s best chances came from attacking space behind the City backline: Philippe Coutinho’s tame effort in the first half, and Raheem Sterling’s sitter were both created by Suarez. The one issue with Liverpool’s swift attacks was the number of men they committed forward – Lucas Leiva positional discipline was questionable, and both fullbacks surged forward, which left Rodgers with his two centrebacks as a line of defence.
City dropped into two banks of four out of possession, and Silva was often the free man searching for space to receive the ball and spring quick counter attacks by stringing passes towards Nasri and Navas. Pellegrini’s men squandered several opportunities on the break to add to their goal tally, but the home side notched a winner from this route of attack. Nasri’s magnificent cross field pass found Jesus Navas in an advanced position, and the Spaniard picked out Alvaro Negredo, whose unorthodox finish squeaked past Simon Mignolet.
Although Liverpool had the better opportunities in the second half, City were comfortable. Pellegrini’s men pressed Liverpool as a unit when they attempted to play out of the back, forcing the away side – in particular Mamadou Sakho – into conceding possession. City continued to monopolize possession through Silva and Nasri’s intelligence to drop deeper and drift into pockets of space between the lines, while the introduction of James Milner nullified Glen Johnson’s threat in wide areas. The movement of City’s creative players and their pressing was pivotal – both sides generated legitimate threats on the break, but Liverpool’s attacking naivety continuously handed the home side goal-scoring opportunities.