Liverpool v Man City Sun 27th Nov 2011

Shankly statue out front

Image via Wikipedia

Liverpool welcome rampant league leaders Manchester City to Anfield in what will certainly provide the sternest test of Kenny Dalglish’s team to date this Sunday.

City are coming off a disappointing 2-1 loss in the Champions League, but in the Premier League, they are on fire, dropping only two points and sweeping aside opponent after opponent with some of the best attacking football seen in the Premier League since the Arsenal invincibles. On their travels they have dealt out hammerings to title rivals Spurs (5-1) and United (6-1) with a mediocre performance enough to convincingly beat Newcastle 3-1, so they will arrive on Merseyside full of confidence. It’s fair to say City have been in formidable form so far this season, sharing the best defensive record with Liverpool, but scoring 2.5 times as many goals.

However, over the next 5 weeks City will have a stern examination of their title credentials as they have to play Liverpool twice, Arsenal twice (once in the Carling Cup), and Chelsea. Plus the small matter of Bayern Munich in the Champions League, which they must win, and hope that other results go their way to progress to the knock out stage. This period could make their league season if they win all their games, as no team will stand a psychological chance knowing that City have swept all before them.

Liverpool, for their part, are in the midst of a nine match unbeaten run and have beaten Arsenal and Chelsea away and drawn at home to United. The Reds have raised their performances against the top teams but struggled to beat the lesser teams.

It’s worth noting that City have a poor record at Anfield. Liverpool have lost just one of their last 20 league games against City, scoring 42 goals and conceding 18. Prior to that loss you have to go all the way back to the 1981/82 season to find City’s next league win at Anfield.

The Reds recent record against City at Anfield is impressive but this Manchester City team, with Silva, Aguero, Balotelli and Dzeko all in fantastic form, are a very different proposition. So, can the Reds stun the Citizens at Anfield Road? Well despite the odds being against them, LFC were unlucky not to beat United, and were deserving winners against Arsenal and Chelsea, so a Reds win is very possible. And the Chelsea game shows where the game could be won on Sunday. With that in mind, here are the keys to victory for the Reds in the showcase match of this Premier League weekend.

1 Pass and Move
It’s a very simple theory which has reaped incredible rewards for Liverpool over the past five decades. When Dalglish returned as manager last season he got the team playing “The Liverpool Way” and Liverpool fans began to believe that the good days were coming back.

This season, however, pass and move has rarely been seen. For Liverpool to be effective against City and break down their defence, the ball must be moved quickly and intelligently with wingers and fullbacks dovetailing, the strikers interchanging and the central midfielders not dallying on the ball.

2 Defend in Numbers
If you look at the individual match-ups between Liverpool and Manchester City they do not make good reading for a Liverpool fan. City have the players to cause Liverpool major problems while Liverpool really only have two match winners in the current line-up, Suarez and Bellamy. (Gerrard is still injured.)

For Liverpool to have success in this game, the defence must hold up to the pressure they will undoubtedly be put under and the key to that is defending in numbers. Liverpool cannot allow their defenders to be isolated one on one with City’s attackers.

3 Lucas
One of the most maligned players, even by LFC fans, he has quietly gone about his business, slowly building up a reputation as the unsung hero. Whilst Gerard and Adams get all the plaudits, Lucas constantly wins the fans’ votes for man of the match. He has the highest number of completed tackles in the league, which shows his value in shielding the defence (and contributing to the joint lowest number of goals conceded in the league), but on top of that he has the highest number of missed tackles in the league. Whilst that might not seem to be something to be proud of, every missed tackle will still unsettle the ball carrier and make it easier for a team mate to make the final tackle. That shows how much ground he covers and the work he puts into covering the back four. And so Lucas will be essential in the next point.

4 Deny De Silva the Ball
Manchester City possess the best midfield in the Premier League and that is what has set them apart from the rest of the pack this season. Liverpool cannot allow the City midfield to control the game or they will find themselves in trouble. Liverpool must press City high up the field and try to break up their opponent’s attacks before they reach the final third. Allowing City to launch attack after attack on the Liverpool backline will lead to disaster.

Adam and Lucas need to apply pressure on City’s midfield pairing of Yaya Toure and DeJong or Barry from the off and force them to make mistakes. In front of them, Suarez and Bellamy will be asked to pressurize Kompany and Lescott and not allow them to play the ball out of defence.

But in this great midfield, De Silva is the best player in the Premier League. He is the key to everything good that City do. While stopping Silva doesn’t necessarily stop City, it does make them less effective and less efficient. Silva’s ability to drop into space and play a killer pass has seen numerous teams put to the sword. If Liverpool don’t want a hammering from City, they need to stop Silva. The best way to do this is simply to deny him the ball.

While it’s all well and good letting him get the ball and then trying to close him down and force him into unfavourable positions, it doesn’t really work. Silva has incredible ball control and is surprisingly strong for a man so small. He’s more than capable of holding off a defender, working a foot of space and then leaving said defender standing while he takes the ball clear and sets up another attack. Liverpool need to stop the ball from getting to Silva. That means that whoever is nearest to him has to be fully aware of his movement and try to intercept the ball before it gets to him.

5 Craig Bellamy
Bellamy started his second league match for Liverpool this season and brought huge energy and movement to the Reds’ front line alongside Suarez. The off the ball work from both players gave Chelsea all sorts of problems in the first half, and Bellamy claimed a good assist for the opening goal. His non-stop harassment of defenders, as well as Kuyt and Suarez, can create chances from nothing, while Bellamy and Suarez seem to instantly read each other and expect the quick passes that perhaps Carroll hasn’t been able to grasp this season.

6 Luis Suarez
It’s hardly rocket science. Suarez is Liverpool’s best and most important player. If they are to beat City, then Suarez needs to be involved in the play as often as possible. The important part of getting the ball to Suarez is to get the ball into his feet in space, allowing him to turn and run at the City defence. Liverpool have too often been guilty of playing long balls in behind defences for him to chase. That forces him to expend too much energy that would better put to use with the ball at his feet.

Suarez owns the quickest feet in the Premier League, in that he has the ability to shift the ball from one foot to the other and back again in small spaces, and in doing so leave defenders looking rather silly. To get the best out of him Bellamy, Rodriguez and Kuyt or Henderson must start in the attacking roles for the Reds alongside the Uruguayan.

7 Maxi Rodriguez
Maxi made his first Premier League start of the season for Liverpool against Chelsea and marked it with a first half performance full of inventiveness and good movement—and a goal. Though he noticeably tired in the second period, he was a big part of Liverpool’s attacking quartet, which troubled Chelsea so much in the first period with constant closing down and clever movement. Maxi might not get a start every week, but his ability to score a goal and put in a lot of effort, as well as his off the ball movement, make him a valuable player for the Reds.

8 Liverpool Finally Show a Clinical Edge
Two shots on target, two goals. It has been a very different story recently for the Reds, as chance after chance has been squandered in recent matches, hitting the woodwork a league leading 11 times, and 29 shots on goal against Norwich, but only one scored! But against Chelsea both efforts on target resulted in goals, and that is a trend they need to maintain especially against City where chances may be few and far between.

9 Pepe Reina
Johnson might get the headlines after his late winner against former club Chelsea, but Liverpool owe just as big a debt of gratitude to goalkeeper Reina. Just moments after Chelsea equalised through Sturridge, Reina produced one of the saves of the season, flinging himself low to his left to tip an Ivanovic header away. Given that he was not troubled seriously for most of the match, Reina’s concentration and reactions for this save were a match winner.

10 Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger
The pairing of Skrtel and Agger continued their impressive recent form to show Jamie that his passage back to first team action might not be as simple as it usually is after a lay-off. Clean sheets against West Brom and Swansea in the last two games were followed up with another excellent showing against Chelsea with just the one moment where the back-line was breached, costing the Reds a goal. Skrtel was strong in the challenge and alert to movement from the likes of Drogba, while Agger was similarly bullish in his duels and both confidently passed the ball out of defence.

11 Wingers and Width
The Liverpool wingers are going to have to double up with the fullbacks because City’s fullbacks will almost certainly spend the majority of the game overlapping and trying to create two on one match-ups on the wings. Kuyt will have to stop City’s left back, be it Clichy or Kolarov, from getting forward too often. Likewise Maxi must stop Richards and can’t allow Enrique to be left trying to deal with Milnar and Richards by himself.

But in attack, LFC like to use the width of the pitch to stretch the play and create openings for mobile forwards and supporting runners. With the support of the home crowd so close to the edge of the pitch, the Man City wingers will need be under a lot of pressure to contain the endless running of LFC wingers and full backs. But currently the City wide players average less than one tackle per game, not nearly enough to stem the tide. And facing the work rate of Kuyt, the movement of Maxi, the energy of Bellamy, the running of Enrique, the dribbling of Johnson and the speed of Suarez, this could be the area that Liverpool are able to take advantage of one of the few weaknesses in a splendid Man City side.

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